Dec 2, 2011

Avoid the GAP

I stepped into a Whole Foods Market a couple weeks ago and surveyed the meat case. There were plenty

of options to choose from. I purchased an all-natural, grass fed, New York strip steak just to see what that part of the food CROW world was all about. The steak was over 24 bucks a pound, and it was lean. I took care not to overcook the steak so I could give it a fair evaluation. It was okay, but I wouldn’t buy another.

There are lots of options in today’s meat-consuming world and Whole Foods has worked hard to provide unique meat products for their customers. The store is very proud of their products, but not everyone can afford to shop there. They have just over 300 stores nationwide and have obviously done their demographic homework. You will only find their stores in the most affluent cities.

We have seen quite a few beef producers try and satisfy these niche beef markets over the years. And it’s good to see producers become more consumer focused. The markets have always sent the right signals and incentive for a producer to differentiate their product. It’s good old capitalism. It’s the way markets are supposed to work.

Whole Foods has done a good job sourcing the variety of meat products they provide and are working directly with producers to get a specific type of product. They have also taken steps to assure their consumers they’ve provided the humane treatment element to the meat case. But I’m not sure I like how they define the terms “humane” and “sustainability” in the livestock industry.

Several years ago, they started a group they called Animal Compassion Foundation to help them get guaranteed humane raised products. The group’s name has changed to Global Animal Partnership, commonly known as GAP.

Their idea was to lay down a framework for humane livestock production systems and they came up with a five-step program for producers to follow.

On the surface, this GAP program seems harmless and will provide Whole Foods with that type of product. However, when you realize who is guiding this program, it becomes a little shady and there is reason to be concerned.

One of the familiar names on the board is Wayne Pacelle, the big dog at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), along with one of his lieutenants, Miyan Park who was VP of the HSUS Farm Animal Welfare program and involved with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PE- TA). There are a couple other folks on the board who carry similar activist credentials.

This cast of characters on the GAP board of directors suggests its intention may not simply be about compassion and doing a better job raising livestock. The history behind their board member choices suggest that they are all about setting a humane standard and legislating it. Which means, if you don’t raise livestock according to their standard, you may just as well go out of business.

There is one cattleman on the board who works with a natural beef company that supplies product to Whole foods. He said that being on the GAP board is a little intimidating but he feels that the debate is inevitable and feels they need to be involved. He is fully aware of the other board members’ real jobs and treads with caution. Every meat species has producer representation on the board.

The part that bugs me is that the non-producer members of this GAP board are documented , paid, animal welfare activists, and are collecting some big paychecks. They have a long history in their chosen trade. With this bunch, it’s pretty simple, if you’re not with them, you’re against them, and they will try and make you pay for it. There is no middle ground.

On the HSUS website, Pacelle was lambasting a professional activist who had opposing views to his. He said that Rick Berman, who runs the Center for Consumer Freedom, is a hired gun who fights against HSUS. The way I see it, Pacelle is being a bit hypocritical. He should be able to spot a professional activist when he sees one.

I’m a little uncomfortable letting this group set a humane standard. I would prefer that the cattle groups take this humane treatment issue head on and set our own standards for humane treatment. GAP may be working for Whole Foods, but I certainly don’t want GAP creating a standard for everyone. And it could create an image that if you’re a producer and don’t support them, that you’re the bad guy. — PETE CROW