Minding the GAP Program



William Sheehan

In a market awash with vague and misguiding advertising regarding the treatment of animals raised for slaughter, Whole Foods’ proposed GAP Program is a breath of fresh air. Whole Foods announced that it will rate food items that use animal products on a 5-step scale, established by the Global Animal Partnership, indicating the specific conditions which the animals were subjected to. The scale serves dual purposes: it provides consumers with the information which they require to make informed decisions that satisfy their ethical concerns and it also allows companies to sell their products at a premium that accurately reflects the treatment which they provide for their animals.

By establishing this rating system, Whole Foods is proactively addressing the problems posed by the shifting and ill-explained “organic” standards that are set by the Department of Agriculture. The “Organic” standards paints with too broad a brush and does not address the different standards of animal treatment that exist within the industry. The government has lagged behind the market in defining animal welfare standards for meat, poultry and dairy products. Hopefully, by establishing a well-defined and concise set of standards which the consumer can trust and easily comprehend, Whole Foods has used its significant market influence to reset the bar for the Department of Agriculture and will encourage them to follow suit, despite the Department of Agriculture’s recent and hard-fought alteration of the “organic” standard.

6 Responses

  1. Hi William,
    I appreciate all you say about Whole Foods proposed GAP Program, and smiled at the clever graphic (taken from London subway phraseology, right?).

    However, I cannot in good conscience agree that this is a breath of fresh air. I feel that this is a money-making scheme designed to appease the guilty conscience of consumers, so they won’t have to examine the underlying premise of whether it is ever ethical to kill another sentient being for reasons that have nothing to do with survival.

    I also feel it is a clever way for both “producers” of animals (an idea that appalls me) and the founder of Whole Foods, who calls himself a vegan, to make even more money at the expense of the animals unfortunate enough to be bred for slaughter.

    This brings to mind a comment by filmmaker James LaVeck in his February 2007 Satya article, “Truthiness Is Stranger Than Fiction” (which can now be found here: http://www.tribeofheart.org/tohhtml/truthiness.htm).

    LaVeck writes: “[W]hen animal advocates encourage the public to accept ‘new and improved’ forms of abuse, we are powerfully reinforcing the status of nonhuman animals as property, to be acquired, used and disposed of at will.”

    It is a wonderful idea to have clear, credible standards for labeling organic produce (veggies, fruits, legumes, etc.), but it does no favors to animals to label them as commodities.

    Please consider how you would feel if you were one of the “happy” cows murdered in cold blood so that you could be slapped with a GAP label and bought by an “ethical” consumer.

    So, no, Whole Foods is not addressing problems with its 5-step scale. The only thing it’s proactively doing is further lining its pockets and those of the farmers and ranchers.

    How one can raise animals in benign conditions then turn around and slice their throats when they’ve reached optimum weight or they’re “spent” — and hope to avoid the labels of hypocrite, coward, profiteer — is beyond me.

    And then there’s this damning label: traitor to the most loyal, trustworthy, innocent, and pure friends one could ever have.

  2. I kind of agree with SBH CLAY, I really don’t know if this is going to be a good thing or just a marketing gimmick. It is a small step, but then again; who is there to verify that every animal is treated according to the claim on the label anyway?

  3. I agree with SBH Clay. Another point: Whole Foods charges a lot of money for their products, thus ensuring that only a few, guilty-conscienced, misguided wealthy people will buy their products. The GAP program does not help animals (quite the opposite), nor does it help most of the humans on this planet (who will probably number close to 9billion by 2050). Thus, even assuming (and it’s an assumption I disagree with) that this supposedly “humane” treatment does *anything* to help animals, the fact is that most people will still be eating factory farmed meat. And demand will continue to rise, as it has been.

    This isn’t a good thing for animals at all.

  4. I disagree with the previous comments. While vegan is obviously the ideal, if the majority of Whole Foods shoppers are going to eat meat (and they are) surely it’s better that those animals suffer less wretched lives. If you were a hen in a battery cage, would you rather that activists got you out of the cage, or that they left you in the cage while they waited for a vegan-world that wouldn’t come in your lifetime? Yes, Whole Foods is a small part of the market – but surely better 5% of animals enjoy a less cruel life than 0%. Animal activists, including vegans like myself, owe it to farm animals to try to reform their wretched conditions.

  5. Hi Lewis,

    What you say is certainly understandable. It’s heart-wrenching to watch undercover videos of tormented animals.

    Have you watched the two videos on the “truthiness” link I provided in my comment? One of them puts a PR spin on the troubling truth that cage-free hens are no less miserable than their caged sisters.

    Even if there are a few egg-laying hens, farmed at the highest end of the 5-step scale, who actually live as chickens are designed to do, they will still not be allowed to raise their chicks, and they will still be “managed” for profit. Too, the price for their eggs will be so steep that few can afford to buy them.

    How do you propose to convince consumers that it is unjust to use animals for our selfish ends if these same consumers are patting themselves on the back for returning to pre-CAFO standards?

    How do you personally divide your loyalty between a system that stubbornly commoditizes animals and the animals themselves who, like humans, deserve to be valued solely for their spiritual qualities, not for their body parts?

    To use a trite analogy, one cannot ride two horses who are running in different directions and hope to finish the ride in one piece.

    Lewis, if you want to be treated a little more delicately before you are executed, fine. But, remember, you would still be seen as a product. Would you like to be identified that way? Or would it be much more important to you to be recognized as a unique, special individual — appreciated just for being YOU?

    What I’m getting at is this: If I’m a hen, I would rather know deep in my heart that a few idealists are not pussy-footing around on my behalf, but are devoting all their efforts to making sure that one day my fellow chickens will be free of the curse of commodification. If I’m a hen, I’d be grateful that there are, on this earth, a few intellectually honest, dedicated visionaries who understand that it IS possible for reality to conform to the ideal: eternal harmony and peace for all beings.

    And if I’m one of those realists/idealists, which I am, I can only be true to my conscience and my creature friends if I do not bend my principles and dull my vision by allying with the traitorous killers of my friends.

    How will we EVER make it possible for society to see animals correctly — if we pretend that there IS such a thing as humane slavery and humane slaughter?

    How will we EVER persuade our fellow humans that what they are doing is immoral — when we make their animal-eating so comfortable that they are fooled into believing they’re being moral?

    How will our race EVER dismantle the 11,000-year-old herding culture that regards animals as edible, wearable, and otherwise exploitable property — unless we declare by our words AND our actions that this tradition is built upon an abominable lie?

  6. […] My endless ruminations along these lines were reactivated by reading Animal Blawg’s latest entry about the Mind the Gap program begun by Whole Foods. Here’s a link to the entire post, including the comments (one of which I will discuss): https://animalblawg.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/minding-the-gap-program/ […]

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