When consumers shop at Whole Foods Market, they expect high-quality products. Willing to pay a little more, shoppers search out organic produce, sustainable seafood, and antibiotic-free meat from animals raised in humane conditions.
The grocer's website lays out its five-step animal-welfare rating system, which provides standards for how animals are raised, stating, "We believe the treatment of animals should be guided by an attitude of care, responsibility, and respect." Pigs raised for pork sold at Whole Foods are rated at level-two conditions, meaning "animals are provided with enrichments that encourage behavior that's natural to them — like a bale of straw for chickens to peck at, a bowling ball for pigs to shove around, or a sturdy object for cattle to rub against."
In an investigation of one of Whole Foods' major pork suppliers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) uncovered a different setting. Video footage shot at Sweet Stem Farm LLC in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, shows pigs living in a dark structure, not allowed to roam in the grass just outside their reach. More alarming, animals are dragged by their ears, lying sick or injured, and even hauled away dead.
According to PETA, the exposé reveals:
the factory farm-like conditions — and suffering — at a so-called "happy meat" pork supplier to Whole Foods. We found pigs confined to crowded sheds with concrete floors at all times except when being weighed or transported. They could see and smell but never set foot on the lush green grass that surrounds the barns. Pigs on this farm with illnesses and injuries — including neurological ailments and bleeding rectal prolapses — went without adequate veterinary care for days or even weeks. And as you can see in the video footage, more than 20 pigs were tightly packed into a metal trailer on a hot day more than 24 hours before they were hauled to slaughter for Whole Foods — just because the manager didn't want to wait another day to pull straw out of a pen.
Whole Foods Market does not agree with PETA's findings. Contacted about the allegations, the company responded with the following statement:
We have always believed in and fought for the improvement of welfare for farm animals industry-wide, and all the pork, beef, chicken and turkey in our fresh meat cases comes from producers who have achieved certification to Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system. We conducted a thorough visit to the farm within hours of being made aware of the PETA-edited video, and did not see the issues PETA alleged. PETA’s goal isn’t farm animal welfare but rather a total end to animal agriculture and animal meat consumption, and their videos and other content are all produced with that specific goal in mind.
PETA supporters are planning a protest at Whole Foods Market at 12150 Biscayne Blvd. in North Miami this Saturday, January 30. Beginning at noon, protesters will seek to ask the company to "stop misleading customers by calling the meat it sells humane."
Organizer Karina Dionne says that point of the protest is to educate consumers. "A lot of people don't know what's happening at slaughterhouses. These animals never see the light of day. They're dirty; they're sick. The only time they get to breathe fresh air is when they're hauled off to the trucks to slaughter."
Dionne says that most people shop at Whole Foods because they believe their meat is raised humanely — and they're willing to pay more for it. "People are spending extra money. In reality, they can walk over to Walmart. Essentially, it's the same."
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The protest leader says there will be no shouting at shoppers. "You can't accomplish anything being mean to people. Our protests have all been very proactive and educational. The outcome is always good. You get to talk to a lot of people."
Dionne embraced veganism after learning about various farm and slaughterhouse investigations. "People think that by purchasing this food, they're contributing to humane processing of animals. But there is no way to kill an animal in a nice way. It's just a marketing tactic from Whole Foods."
Dionne expects at least 25 protesters and says everyone is welcome to join the demonstration by showing up at Whole Foods in North Miami at noon Saturday. Protesters can bring their own signs or use ones already made. For more information, contact the organizer at email@example.com.