Farm Forward, a former booster, finds GAP approach bassackward––& is scarcely alone
AUSTIN, Texas––What a difference ten years of Global Animal Partnership have not made for factory-farmed animals!
Indeed, the biggest visible change associated with Global Animal Partnership [GAP] may be that Farm Forward has split with it.
A faith-linked farmed animal advocacy organization, Farm Forward as of 2011 was widely viewed as a shill for GAP.
Assessed Humane Farm Animal Care founder Adele Douglass in January 2011 of GAP, a then-upstart rival to her own then-eight-year-old Certified Humane program, “Farm Forward is a separate non-profit organization that works with GAP. Farm Forward and GAP have mutual board members,” Douglass pointed out.
Whole Foods Markets
Specifically GAP founding executive director Miyun Park, long since departed, and GAP and Whole Foods Markets founder John Mackey served on the Farm Forward Board, while Mackey and Farm Forward founder Steve Gross served on the GAP Board.
“Farm Forward is collaborating with GAP to try to persuade more retailers to require GAP certification for their suppliers,” Douglass alleged.
Fast-forward to mid-2021.
John Mackey is still chief executive officer of Whole Foods Markets, the upscale quasi-natural foods chain he co-founded in Austin, Texas in 1980, but Whole Foods president A.C. Gallo now represents the company on the GAP board of directors.
The online retailer Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.4 billion in June 2017.
“Passing off low welfare standards as the gold standard”
And, charged Farm Forward executive director Andrew deCoriolis in a June 2021 blog posting amplified by the vegan advocacy electronic magazine Sentient Media, “Global Animal Partnership recently signaled its commitment to continuing to use genetically modified ‘hybrid’ chicken lines that create chronic animal suffering and increase public health risks.
“More than in the past,” deCoriolis fumed, “GAP seems dedicated to passing off low welfare standards as the gold standard, thus helping the purveyors of factory-farmed products deceive shoppers.”
But deCoriolis was not merely amplifying the decade-old suspicion of GAP voiced by critics ranging from Douglass, whose husband since 2017 is Meat Industry Hall of Fame founder Chuck Jolley, to United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis, a GAP skeptic from minutes after Mackey announced he was forming it, and of course legions of “vegan police.”
“Today’s allegedly high welfare chickens suffer more”
Explained deCoriolis, “Details of the latest chicken study by GAP are illustrative of how this certification scheme, which does offer animals some real protections, still often functions to deceive the public.
“The study,” deCoriolis said, “performed at the University of Guelph, was intended to help GAP establish breed criteria for its multi-tiered welfare program. However, the study included only growth-accelerated breeds known to have welfare problems, such as heart and lung stress, obesity, and musculoskeletal issues.
“The study failed to build in any meaningful control group, giving researchers no ‘baseline’ of what a normal bird—that is, a non-hybrid, or ‘standard-bred’ bird—would look like. This leaves open the possibility that today’s allegedly high welfare chickens actually suffer more than chickens did in the first half of the 20th century.
Allowed deCoriolis, “GAP’s study was useful in establishing that faster-growing birds suffer more than slower-growing birds, but, strangely, it formally excluded the slowest growing birds that its own results suggest would have the highest welfare.
“Whatever industry wants to market as humane”
“The omission of standard-bred breeds is telling,” deCoriolis continued. “It appears that GAP’s forthcoming recommendations specifying which lines of birds can be considered ‘high welfare’ will not seek to optimize welfare as consumers understand it, but rather will approach welfare as understood by industry. Instead of helping consumers identify products that meet their understanding of ‘humane’, GAP has committed to maximizing profitability by helping sell consumers on whatever industry has decided it wants to market as humane.”
deCoriolis differentiated himself from those “vegan police” who argue against “welfarist” activity, favoring only abolition of meat-eating.
“To disparage suffering reduction efforts is to forget what it is like to suffer,” deCoriolis said. “However, this does not give suffering reduction efforts license to deceive consumers.
“Small improvement to justify larger injustice”
“The welfare gains documented for slower-growing hybrid strains that appear substantial, when compared to the fastest-growing strains, may be meaningful,” deCoriolis conceded, “but, put in context, they are also a clear case of attempting to make a small improvement to justify a larger injustice.”
Finished deCoriolis, “The omission of genetically uncompromised birds suggests that GAP is unwilling to look at, and thus incapable of even describing, what high welfare farming looks like.”
deCoriolis and Farm Forward are scarcely the first former Global Animal Partnership boosters to rip into the GAP-funded University of Guelph study.
Blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block on September 14, 2020, “The two-year study included 7,500 chickens from 16 genetic strains commonly used by meat producers on both large and small farms worldwide. The overwhelming majority of chicken meat sold in the United States and globally comes from the faster-growing versions of the breeds tested.
“Researchers found, among many animal welfare concerns, that the fast-growing strains of chickens had reduced mobility (as measured by the ability to walk over an obstacle, which other scientific studies have found is associated with the chickens being in pain).”
Slower-growing chickens have better health & mobility
The fastest-growing chickens, Block observed, “were also more likely to have disproportionate heart and lung development and increased footpad lesions and burns caused by ammonia from the waste of other birds—a common problem when they are so tightly confined together.
“In contrast, slower-growing strains of chickens tested in the same research trial had consistently better health and mobility.”
However, Block concluded, “The researchers found that even when the chickens were raised according to the companies’ recommendations, the welfare of the birds remained poor. Were these birds to be raised under less exacting environmental and nutritional standards, the results for the welfare of the birds would be even worse.”
“A truly Orwellian effort”
Block stopped short of alleging, as DeCoriolis did, that Global Animal Partnership set out deliberately to deceive consumers into accepting “a small improvement to justify a larger injustice.”
But Block’s criticisms stood in distinct contrast to the enthusiasm for Global Animal Partnership espoused by Wayne Pacelle, her predecessor as Humane Society of the U.S. president from 2004 to 2018.
Recalled Huffington Post writer John Sanbonmatsu on June 22, 2016, “Back in 2011, Pacelle got together with his friend John Mackey, the libertarian union-busting owner of Whole Foods, to create the Global Animal Partnership, a truly Orwellian effort that brought one of the world’s largest retailers of meat under the same roof as the world’s largest animal welfare organization.”
Pacelle in 2016-2017 blogged at least five times about his success in bringing major food industry corporations into Global Animal Partnership. Among those that Pacelle mentioned specifically in connection with chicken welfare were Aramark, Campbell Soup, Chipotle, the Compass Group, Nestlé USA, Panera Bread, Ruby Tuesday, Shake Shack, Starbucks, and Subway.
What did they do for chickens?
What exactly did these corporations agree to do for chickens?
Eight of them, Pacelle mentioned, merely began “requiring that their chicken suppliers over time follow standards set forth by the Global Animal Partnership.”
Campbell Soup, Pacelle said, “will mandate that its suppliers switch to healthier breeds of birds, approved by either the Royal SPCA [of Britain] or Global Animal Partnership.”
Nestlé USA announced that “Over the next several years its suppliers must stop breeding chickens to grow so fat so fast that they suffer crippling injuries and ailments,” Pacelle recited, “by switching to breeds of birds approved by either the Global Animal Partnership or the Royal SPCA [of Britain], both of which,” Pacelle said, “we are proud to endorse.”
The Royal SPCA “Freedom Food” standards for factory-farmed chickens have been repeatedly compromised by lax enforcement.
GAP five-step rating system a “sham,” said PETA
The recent Global Animal Partnership effort to develop “animal welfare standards” that certify factory-farmed birds as having been raised under “high welfare” conditions suggests that meeting the GAP bottom-tier standards means little or nothing, exactly as Farm Forward chief executive DeCoriolis charged.
Pacelle began banging the drums over bringing corporations into Global Animal Partnership even as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and individual activist Lori Grass of Portola Valley, California, waged an attempted class action lawsuit alleging that the Whole Foods Markets use of a five-step rating system for producers of beef, chicken, pork and turkey is a “sham,” summarized Jonathan Stempel of Reuters, “because it was not enforced against suppliers, and the standards were at best little better than normal industry practices.”
The PETA lawsuit––which Pacelle deplored in one of his blog posts––was dismissed on April 27, 2016, Stempel wrote, when “U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Jose, California, said PETA failed to show that Whole Foods’ alleged misrepresentations on in-store signs, placards and napkins defrauded consumers into overpaying.
“Cousins said the statement that ‘no cages’ were used to raise broiler chickens was not misleading merely because Whole Foods failed to also disclose that poultry suppliers normally do not use cages in the first place,” Stempel reported.
Wrote Cousins, “Retailers do not have a duty to disclose product information unless it relates to a consumer safety issue.”
Global Animal Partnership was at least the 26th animal product certification program introduced by various U.S. organizations, with many more operating abroad.
Most such certification programs are under the direction of the particular branches of
agribusiness that they serve.
Within the U.S., only the Global Animal Partnership, the Animal Welfare Certified program begun by the Animal Welfare Institute, the Certified Humane program operated by Humane Farm Animal Concerns, and a certification program administered by the American Humane Association even claim independence from agribusiness.
Trying to identify the programs without a scorecard
There are major structural differences among them. Perhaps most notably, the Animal Welfare Approved program admits only family-owned farms.
The five-step Global Animal Partnership evaluation system means, essentially, that no producer flunks, whereas Animal Welfare Certified, Certified Humane, and the American Humane Association programs operate on a pass/fail basis.
There are also significant differences among the specific animal welfare standards advocated by Global Animal Partnership, Animal Welfare Certified, Certified Humane, and the American Humane Association.
Before the debut of Global Animal Partnership, the American Humane Association standards were widely considered the weakest of the lot, hastily introduced after Adele Douglass, who founded the original AHA farmed animal products certification program, resigned from the AHA in 2002 under pressure to compromise her standards. Douglass then started Humane Farm Animal Care instead.
GAP debuted as Whole Foods in-house scheme
Global Animal Partnership debuted in 2005 as Whole Foods Markets own in-house product certification scheme, restructured as a separate organization in 2008 to attract other corporate participants.
Aware that the role of a retail meat marketer as incubator for Global Animal Partnership might compromise perceptions of GAP, Mackey and Pacelle, a longtime GAP board member, recruited an all-star cast of animal welfare advocates to serve on the GAP board, balanced by an almost equal number of people associated with Whole Foods and Whole Foods suppliers.
None of this, however, quelled criticisms voiced almost continuously ever since that the Global Animal Partnership five-step accreditation system sets the minimum standards for GAP accreditation so low that almost any producer meeting the requirements of the industry
certification systems can gain the GAP imprimatur.
Once admitted to the GAP program at Step One or Step Two, no mechanism requires
producers to make improvements to rise to the higher levels of animal welfare required by
Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved.
“Recognition for minimal standards”
In theory, GAP enables consumers to vote for higher animal welfare by paying higher prices
for animal products certified at the higher steps. There seems to be little evidence, though, that consumers actually distinguish among the five steps when shopping for animal products: one level of certification may be perceived as just as good as another.
Warned Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss in January 2011, “Little will be accomplished if GAP standards remain low, consumers shop at the bottom of the scale, and producers fail to move up.”
Agreed Adele Douglass, “GAP is giving industrial-type operations recognition for minimal standards which in some cases provide no benefit to the animals––and, through GAP, these factory operations are securing humane community endorsement too!”
The turnabouts by Farm Forward and the Humane Society of the U.S. suggest that may be changing, somewhat.
On the other hand, while Pacelle is no longer on the Global Animal Partnership board, John Mackey is on the board of the Animal Wellness Foundation, headed by Pacelle since soon after his ouster from HSUS.
The seat on the Global Animal Partnership board formerly occupied by Pacelle is now held by American SPCA president Matt Bershadker.
Bershadker, like Pacelle, is better known for his fundraising success than for his allegiance to animal welfare standards as ANIMALS 24-7 and probably most of our readership recognize them.
The ASPCA web site now offers a 17-page download promoting Global Animal Partnership.
Meanwhile, one Global Animal Partnership verity is that not even one non-human animal––not even one chicken, pig, cow, duck, goat, fish, or even spineless parasite––is in truth a self-aware and willing participant in any “partnership” that sends the animals to slaughter.