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Food Fight: PETA Sues Whole Foods for False Claims on Humane Meat

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on September 24, 2015 3:59 PM

Morrissey sang that meat is murder, and PETA couldn't agree more. But shoppers at Whole Foods could long console themselves that their cuts came from friendlier farms than most. Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is suing the posh supermarket chain, claiming that its humane meat rating system is a farce.

PETA, in a class action lawsuit filed in California on Monday, says that Whole Foods barely surpasses national meat standards and is deceiving shoppers. Animals are living in poor conditions, despite the five-step rating system which grades suppliers based on their creatures' quality of life, among other factors. Whole Foods, meanwhile, believes that PETA manipulated a pig farm video posted to prove the suit's validity.

Dueling Do-Gooders:

To put PETA's claims in perspective, Whole Foods spokesman, Michael Silverman, recalled the activist group's ambitions. "It is important to remember that PETA's mission is a total end to animal agriculture and animal meat consumption," he wrote in an email to the Guardian.

But the supermarket chain cannot afford to be too disdainful, as activist tendencies are strong in its shoppers, too. People pay more for meat that gets better grades. The meat rating system at Whole Foods is meant to reassure shoppers that the animals they eat are treated well and live happily before becoming barbecue.

The Grading System

Whole Foods upholds six steps in its meat grading system:

  1. Some carnivores will pay substantially more for a cut from a farm that does not cage its animals. Hence, Step 1 in the Whole Foods rating system: no cages, crates, or crowding.
  2. This step indicates concern with animals living in an "enriched environment."
  3. For farmers whose animals have outdoor access.
  4. Meat eaters who prefer pasture roamers buy from Step 4 suppliers.
  5. Those who care for creature freedom pay for Step 5 meat, which means an "animal centered" life with no physical alterations.
  6. For those who can afford it and are concerned about all aspects of an animal's pre-meat existence, there are Whole Foods' top graded suppliers, called Step 5+. They provide their livestock an "animal centered life" spent entirely on one farm.

Whole Foods stores boast posters noting the hundreds of hoops that farmers jump through to be certified by the supermarket. These signs are designed to reassure caring carnivores that they are paying for the highest standards possible.

Aggrieved High-End Meat Eaters

PETA says it filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of such aggrieved high-end meat eaters. The class is seeking damages for the difference in price between the quality of meat they thought they bought and the price of factory farmed cuts.

According to Jared Goodman, director of animal law for PETA, "We just want Whole Foods to stop this misleading advertising and give consumers the opportunity to make this educated decision."

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