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Is Buying Whole Foods Meat Really Worth It?

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How to eat meat in a morally, ethically, and environmentally responsible way—it's the true omnivore's dilemma (sorry, Michael Pollan!). The way in which animals are treated prior to being on your plate important to many people—so important, in fact, most of us are willing to shell out more for humanely-raised meat. Whole Foods knows this and has been a top supplier of ethical meat for years, loudly proclaiming their standards that ensure their have the freedom to roam outside and act naturally (pigs get to wallow, turkeys get to forage), which in turn leads to more natural and healthy animal products than what you'd find in a regular grocery store. But all that is being called into question in a new PETA video that shows how one of Whole Foods' pork suppliers really treats their animals—and there's nothing humane about it.

In the video (which may be disturbing to some viewers), pigs are crowded into dank, cramped quarters and left with festering, untreated wounds, including "gross rectal prolapses." It's a far cry from Whole Foods' original promotional video (which has since been removed from its site) that showed happy pigs roaming a small farm. However, while the reality might not match the idyllic dream, it should be noted this is hardly the worst case of animal abuse that PETA has shown. Naturally, Philip Horst-Landis, the owner of the farm, has said the video was manipulated and distorted and the supermarket itself has said they checked out Horst-Landis' farm, Sweet Stem, and found no violations of their rules.

What exactly the rules are for humanely raised meat are a sticky question. Sweet Stem farm is featured on the Whole Foods website as one of their approved suppliers. To become approved by the health-food chain, ranchers have to meet strict standards, outlined in their "5 Steps Plan." Sweet Stem is currently at step two. This means that "animals live their lives with more space to move around and stretch their legs" and that "animals are provided with enrichments that encourage behavior that's natural to them, like a bale of straw for chickens to peck at, a bowling ball for pigs to shove around, or a sturdy object for cattle to rub against." While these requirements leave room for interpretation, the PETA video does seem to show many violations of the little specificty there is.

In fact, a report last year found that 80 percent of meat and poultry labels that claim their products were from "humanely raised" animals didn't actually have any information to verify their claims. But most of us expect more from Whole Paycheck—and that trust is the reason we're willing to lighten our wallets for reliable products.

The good news? If PETA's video causes enough of a ruckus, it will likely enourage the chain to look deeper into all their suppliers, ensuring we are all actually getting the superior meat we're forking over the cash for.

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