When it comes to buying meat at the grocery store, how often do you stop and think about where it came from or what kind of conditions the animals were raised in? Living consciously entails a lot of things, including paying attention to the backstory of the food you consume.
Enter the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), a non-profit organization founded in 2008 that aims to improve the lives of animals and those farmers who raise them responsibly by educating consumers about the food they are purchasing. GAP got its start with Whole Foods Market, which had just concluded a multi-year study focused on achieving higher welfare standards for animals raised for meat. Whole Foods quickly realized that this topic needed a focused and dedicated non-profit behind it, so they donated their research to accelerate GAP’s creation.
GAP’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Ratings Standards rate how pigs, poultry, and cattle are raised for meat—taking into account both on-farm and transport components— with ratings for lambs and other animals coming soon. These ratings are displayed alongside the meat in participating stores so that consumers can trust that the meat they are buying comes from an animal who was raised humanely. The ratings also encourage farmers and ranchers to work harder than ever before to follow cruelty- free practices.
GAP’s five-step standards follow an in-depth rating system that has been simplified for general consumers. Different colored labels show which step has been reached. Whole Foods breaks it down as follows:
Step 1: No crates, no cages. Animals have space to move around and stretch their legs.
Step 2: Enriched environment. Animals are provided with enrichment activities that encourage natural behavior. For example, chickens have bales of straw to peck or pigs have balls to roll around.
Step 3: Enhanced outdoor access. Animals may be housed inside, but they have direct access to outdoor areas.
Step 4: Pasture centered. When living outdoors, chickens and turkeys get to forage, pigs get to wallow, and cattle get to graze.
Step 5: Animal centered; all physical alterations prohibited. At this step, the well-being of the animal is the main focus in how they are raised––such as litters of piglets staying together––with efficiency and economy coming in second.
Step 5+: Animal centered; entire life on same farm. Animals are born and spend their lives on the same farm in humane conditions focused on their well-being.
More than 60 billion animals are raised annually for meat around the world, according to the Food and Agriculture organization of the united Nations. By introducing humane standards, informing consumers about the meat they are buying and eating, encouraging farmers and ranchers to raise their animals in ways that are safe and cruelty-free, and making animal welfare a priority topic in the discussion on farming, the Global Animal Partnership is hoping to make a significant difference in the way that all animals are raised and treated.
Look for the 5-Step Rating, identified through color-coded signs and stickers in the fresh meat and pre-packaged meat sections at Whole Foods to make sure you’re consuming meat from an animal who was raised humanely. In the coming years, keep an eye out for GAP ratings at other animal-conscious grocery stores and restaurants.
To learn more, visit GlobalAnimalPartnership.org.