PETA Calls Out Whole Foods on Meat

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Whole Foods Market charges premium prices for “more humanely treated” meat, but it’s a “sham,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims in a federal class action.
     PETA and a Whole Foods customer sued the grocery chain on Monday, accusing it of false advertising and California business law violations.
     PETA claims the chain’s five-step animal welfare rating system for meat suppliers is a “sham” because suppliers can fall out of compliance for years without losing their certification.
     It also claims Whole Foods’ animal-treatment standards “barely exceed common industry practices, if at all.”
     Whole Foods spokeswoman Beth Krauss said Monday: “We are aware that PETA has filed a suit against us in California, but have not yet been served. It is important to remember that PETA’s mission is a total end to animal agriculture and their claims against our business are generated with that specific goal in mind.”
     PETA claims Whole Foods fails to disclose key details of its rating system, while using signs, placards and napkins to “inundate customers with information about its humane treatment of meat animals.”
     “Had plaintiff [Leah] Williams and class members known the truth, they would not have purchased the meat products or paid as much for them,” the 37-page complaint states.
     Whole Foods in 2009 rolled out its five-step rating system, developed by the Global Animal Partnership, and expanded it nationwide in 2011. All its suppliers must meet Step 1 standards to sell products in Whole Foods stores.
     PETA cites Whole Foods slogans such as “great tasting meat from healthy animals” and “raised right tastes right.”
     “The 5-step rating system is the cornerstone of Whole Foods’ effort to capitalize on consumer demand for humanely treated animal products,” PETA claims, but the audit process is “so lax that it does not actually ensure compliance.”
     Making suppliers submit to one scheduled audit every 15 months does not ensure that chickens, cows and pigs are treated humanely, PETA says, because the audits are neither a surprise nor frequent.
     A recent investigation found a manager hitting pigs with a hard, plastic panel at a pig farm that had a Step-2 rating, PETA claims.
     “Violation of this standard is a major nonconformance,” PETA says. “But such violations are unlikely ever to be caught when inspections occur with advance notice and are exceedingly infrequent.”
     It claims that many violations are classified as “minor,” allowing meat suppliers to violate them repeatedly without consequences.
     And it claims that Whole Foods deceives customers by touting its chickens and turkeys as raised cage-free, though the poultry industry’s standard practice is not to raise boiler chickens and turkeys in cages.
     Whole Foods’ Step 1 and Step 2 ratings allow birds to be raised in crowded sheds at nearly the same density as standard factory farms, PETA says.
     It seeks class certification, restitution, and wants Whole Foods enjoined from deceptively promoting and selling meat.
     PETA is represented by Elaine Byszewski, with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Pasadena.
     A similar class action in Los Angeles Superior Court in March accused Whole Foods of falsely advertising that its chickens are “gently raised and lovingly slaughtered … to justify their exorbitant chicken prices.”

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