|Whole Foods prepares new poultry rating system|
|Written by Laura Bean, Daily Vidette Staff Writer|
|Friday, 03 December 2010 10:24|
Whole Foods Market will be implementing a new ranking system for their chicken this January, intended to give customers a very high level of specificity when it comes to choosing meat that adheres to their principles.
The system consists of six color-coded steps. The first of these steps sets requirements for feed and treatment, and also specifies that the chickens must not have been caged or crowded, according to a recent Chicago Tribune article.
Later steps raise the bar even higher, with the top tier requiring that birds to be kept on one farm for their entire life and kept year-round in a pasture of at least 75 percent vegetation.
The new rating system was developed by Global Animal Partnership, which is a nonprofit group composed of animal welfare activists, scientists, farmers and other experts, with the intention of furthering their goal of continuing the improvement of animal agriculture.
According to the Tribune article, around 1000 farms are undergoing certification from the GAP to be part of the new system. Information about the use of hormones and antibiotics has also been worked into the new system.
Not all poultry products sold by Whole Foods are considered organic. However, according to Dr. Julie Schumacher, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences, the American Dietetic Association agrees that animals that have been treated with antibiotics or other biotechnology are just as safe to eat as organic meats.
In terms of the nutritional benefits, Schumacher said, “The nutrients for chickens vary farm-to-farm for free range chickens.”
Another primary focus of the new rating system is the living conditions under which the animals are raised.
Paul Walker, professor of animal science, explained that although the term “free-range” has very loose interpretations, the most common is when “[chickens] have a hen house or poultry building to be in at night, and during the day they are allowed an open pasture, in other words a fenced-in area.”
Walker also stated that birds raised in free-range conditions may not be any healthier than those raised in more confined living quarters.
“From a health perspective, I think [free-range] is worse. If I were concerned about avian influenza…being transferred, that generally is transferred by wild migratory birds who might land in a free-range area and transfer disease to the captive flock. In a building, that’s not going to happen,” he said.
He went on to add that any benefits of free-range farming have not been scientifically established.
“[Free range farming] has only been assessed from an emotional perspective,” Walker explained.
“The concept of free range is really from the well-being perspective of the bird as viewed by people,” he added.
Thus far, Whole Food’s new system has only been implemented in some southern states.
Kate Klotz, a public relations specialist for Whole Foods, says that the system will be put in place nationwide starting in January of 2011.