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Deconstructing the Myth

This article points out the perils of advocates entering into collaborations with those who make profits by using and killing the very individuals these advocates have pledged to protect.

The writer correctly documents the proliferation of animal product labeling schemes, and that consumers are willing to pay more for products that taste better and "make them feel good." But when a grocery chain reports that sales of meat have jumped 25% since they started carrying more expensive products with an "animal-friendly" label, hasn't something gone terribly wrong?

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is described as a vegan who is outspoken on animal rights issues, a visionary on the verge of releasing a entirely new line of "animal compassionate" products (Note: Mackey has publicly stated that he eats eggs, which means he is not indeed a vegan). And while not mentioned in the article directly, the credibility of Mackey's claims was bolstered by the endorsement of 17 animal advocacy organizations. Their letter of support was prominently displayed at the cash registers at Whole Foods' stores, and some representatives from these organizations even participated in developing the "animal compassionate" standards highlighted in this article. Margaret Wittenberg, vice president for communications and quality standards for Whole Foods said, "We want to make sure that people know that it's real, that it's not just marketing."

And yet, 18 months after this article was published, not even one of the "animal compassionate" standards has been implemented. But does the public know that? For almost a year now, buried in the fine print of the Whole Foods web site, you can find the truth: "Although no producers have met these standards yet, many are exploring the opportunity." So is it fair to say that it was, after all," just marketing?"

A big sign hangs over the meat department at Whole Foods touting their "Animal Compassion Foundation," and doubtless, with all the free publicity from the media and animal advocacy groups, those buying meat at Whole Foods have now been thoroughly convinced that it is "animal friendly." By simply paying higher prices for what John Mackey is selling, they can rest easy under the illusion that the animals who died for them were treated with "compassion."

So Whole Foods stockholders got something of value out of this publicity campaign, and people buying their animal products feel better about it. And animal advocacy conferences now enjoy generous sponsorships from Whole Foods, some in exchange for giving Whole Foods marketing professionals a platform to gather even more support from animal advocates.

But how exactly, has this benefitted the animals, and their cause? Having collaborated with Whole Foods on this scheme, are animal groups in a position to call John Mackey to task, to expose the ways the public has been misled? Or are they now so entangled with Whole Foods that John Mackey's machinations have become their own, leaving them no options but to remain silent and keep playing along, or expose the truth and pay the price of further damaging their own reputations and credibility?

Wikipedia defines "conflict of interest" as a situation where a person in a position of trust has competing personal or professional interests. Can this situation fairly be characterized as a conflict of interest?

To learn more about the politics of the Whole Food's letter, read Compassion for Sale? Doublethink Meets Doublefeel as Happy Meat Comes of Age

"No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us. Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it."



Meat Labels Hope to Lure the Sensitive Carnivore

The increase in animal-welfare labels has been driven in part by animal-rights organizations... But, like organic and natural labels, the animal-welfare claims are also a way for food retailers to offer something their competitors do not... At the same time, others question the validity of the certification programs for animal-welfare labels because some allow farming practices like cutting the tails off pigs and allowing animals to be raised entirely indoors.

Source: NEW YORK TIMES by Andrew Martin   Oct 2006   10/24/2006
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Many cows, pigs and chickens will soon be living cushier lives.

But in the end, they will still be headed for the dinner plate.

Whole Foods Market is preparing to roll out a line of meat that will carry labels saying "animal compassionate," indicating the animals were raised in a humane manner until they were slaughtered.

The grocery chain's decision to use the new labels comes as a growing number of retailers are making similar animal-welfare claims on meat and egg packaging, including "free farmed," "certified humane," "cage free" and "free range."

While the animal-welfare labels are proliferating, it remains unclear whether they appeal to anyone other than a niche market of animal lovers, particularly since the meat and eggs are as much as twice as expensive as products that do not carry the labels.


The increase in animal-welfare labels has been driven in part by animal-rights organizations. The Humane Society of the United States, for instance, has been working for nearly two years to end the practice of confining hens to cages. But, like organic and natural labels, the animal-welfare claims are also a way for food retailers to offer something their competitors do not.


Mr. Taft added that buyers say " 'It makes me feel good.' It's something to give it an edge in a tie-breaker."

The labeling trend has even been embraced by the restaurant industry, where a handful of high-end restaurants are now carrying "certified humane" meat. The Chipotle Mexican Grill, meanwhile, trumpets its humanely raised pork in an ad campaign that appears on the company's Web site and on billboards.

Steve Ells, the chain's founder, chairman and chief executive, said his decision to use humanely raised pork, free of antibiotics and hormones, in his burritos was based in part on his distaste for industrial-style farming, but also on his belief that it tastes better. When the natural pork was added to the menu six years ago, sales of the pork burrito quickly doubled, though the price jumped by $1.

"What is cool about this is we made our food taste better, and we did something good for the food system, for sustainability," Mr. Ells said.

The market for cage-free eggs, which often cost 60 percent more, is growing rapidly, though neither the federal government nor the United Egg Producers, a trade group, tracks their share of the market.

It is harder to determine how many meat packages carry animal-welfare labels. There is general agreement, though, that it remains a small niche that will probably expand substantially when Whole Foods begins offering its animal-compassionate line in its 186 stores.

At one grocery outlet, at least, "certified humane" meat is selling briskly. D'Agostino, a small grocery chain in New York, said sales of meat jumped 25 percent since it added the "certified humane" logo, though the products cost, on average, 30 to 40 percent more.

Several other vendors said they believed that the animal-welfare labels have helped them in various ways. "It has probably helped sales, but it's not really recordable," said Steve Gold, vice president for marketing at Murray's Chicken, which uses the "certified humane" label. "It helps the image of what we are trying to be as a company."

Whole Foods, which recently banned the sale of live lobster amid welfare concerns, has been working on its animal compassionate standards for three years and plans to unveil its logo in a few months, as soon as auditing guidelines are established to make sure farmers are following the rules. The initiative was started by Whole Foods' chief executive, John P. Mackey, a vegan who has been increasingly outspoken on animal-rights issues.

"We want to make sure that people know that it's real," said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president for communications and quality standards. "That it's not just marketing."


Several animal-rights organizations now offer to certify animal-welfare labels to bolster their credibility. For instance, the American Humane Association oversees the "free farmed" program, while Humane Farm Animal Care administers the "certified humane" label. The Animal Welfare Institute plans to unveil its own label next month.


But there are differences among the humane certification programs, and the activists who run them argue over which program is better.

For instance, the Animal Welfare Institute and "free farmed" allow nose rings for pigs; the rings make rooting more difficult and prevent the pigs from tearing up the ground. The others do not allow rings.


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