Shopping For Meat: How To Make A Conscientious Choice


The choice between vegetarianism and carnivorism isn't always an easy one. Though some avoid meat as a matter of taste, many people go vegetarian to protest the inhumane treatment of animals as they are raised to be eaten. For those who are squeamish about livestock practices but can't live without a cheeseburger, shopping options are limited. People living in rural areas may have access to farms where they can easily learn how their meat was raised, but most of America buys its meat in a supermarket. City-dwellers must either settle for grocery store mystery meat, or go to smaller, sustainable butchers, which are, unfortunately, usually more expensive.

To encourage shoppers to shop for meat smartly, Whole Foods Market, the organic foods giant, has partnered with the Global Animal Partnership, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals raised for meat. Together they have developed the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating„¢ system, a scale ranging from 1 to 5+ rating how humanely cows, pigs and chicken are raised. Ratings for other species (turkeys, lamb and goats) are in the works, for those who tend towards more exotic meats. Every beef, pork or chicken product that Whole Foods sells is labeled with a rating so that buyers know exactly what they are eating. For now most are Step 1, which is a huge accomplishment in an industry where most meat products come from factories. No matter where you shop, try to find out where your meat comes from and how it was raised - it will give you a physically and emotionally healthier meat eating experience.

The 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating„¢

Step 1: No crates, no cages, no crowding

Animals have enough room to comfortably move around: the regulation allows pigs and cows to turn around, and chickens to flap their wings.

Step 2: Enriched environment

Animals' living quarters are outfitted with supplemental entertainment to keep them active. Examples include a bale of straw for chickens to climb on, a ball for pigs to play with and push around, and a sturdy object or two for cows to rub against when they have an itch to scratch.

Step 3: Enhanced outdoor access

Pigs and chickens live in buildings but every single one (really!) has access to outdoor areas where they are free to roam.

Step 4: Pasture centered

As the name suggests, animals live outdoors with shelter to shield them from inclement weather.

Step 5: Animal centered; all physical alterations prohibited

Animals live with all their natural parts intact and nothing added; this means no nose rings, no clippings and no branding.

Step 5+: Animal centered; entire life on same farm

Animals spend their entire lives on the farm they were born on. Pigs and cattle are slaughtered on the farm, and chickens are transported only short distances.

Photo:  Laura Appleyard

To read more from Emma, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)