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Hidden Drugs and Humanewashing at Whole Foods Market

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The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited widespread concern about the impacts of industrial animal farming on public health.

Farm Forward has long sounded the alarm about the dangers of tightly packed, filthy factory farms, including the rampant use of antibiotics, which can spawn superbugs. Instead of improving conditions, the meat industry has invested in a series of confusing certifications in an attempt to alleviate consumers’ fears while avoiding fundamental change—even at trusted grocery stores like Whole Foods Market.

Farm Forward began testing meat products purchased at Whole Foods for antibiotic residues following our resignation from the board of Global Animal Partnership (GAP), recognizable for its “Animal Welfare Certified™” label found on Whole Foods’ shelves. Whole Foods touts itself as a leader in natural, sustainable, and healthy foods, but our testing revealed drug residue in its meat products marketed as “antibiotic-free,” Animal Welfare Certified™, and USDA Organic—including monensin sodium, a growth-promoting antibiotic prohibited by GAP and the Certified Organic program.

Two days after we published our findings, the Washington Post cast yet another blow to GAP’s deception, confirming that the problem is systemic: a peer-reviewed study in Science covering more than 10 percent of America’s “antibiotic-free” beef supply found that 15 percent of cows came from feedlots with at least one positive test for medically important antibiotics. Further, 22 percent of GAP’s Animal Welfare Certified™ animals came from feedlots that tested 100% positive for antibiotics.

Farm Forward investigated Whole Foods’ Animal Welfare Certified™ meat because the retailer is perceived as the gold standard. While Whole Foods proclaims that it maintains “Standards That Aren’t Standard Anywhere Else” and that “better meat is our commitment to you,” the vast majority of the animal products it sells are factory farmed. If we can’t trust GAP and Whole Foods, what does that mean about the rest of the meat industry?

Shoppers are fed up by the widespread use of antibiotics to prevent the inevitable spread of disease on factory farms. A major consumer survey conducted by Farm Forward found that 46 percent of Americans believe that animals certified by GAP should never be fed antibiotics—yet our findings prove that GAP can’t deliver on its promises.

For decades, the meat industry, aided by companies like Whole Foods, has used humanewashing tactics to trick consumers into paying premiums for factory-farmed meat. Farm Forward is calling for an end to Whole Foods’ humanewashing: if it’s factory farmed, label it factory farmed. And if Whole Foods can’t live up to its promises to customers, it should take factory-farmed products off its shelves.

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