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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed suit against Whole Food Market in federal court in San Jose on Monday, alleging that the Austin, Texas-based grocery chain deceives its customers regarding its claims of humane treatment of animals raised for meat.
The suit claims that Whole Foods' 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating System – a multi-tiered system that certifies beef, pork and chicken based upon animal welfare practices and conditions – violates California consumer-protection, and that the grocer charges higher prices for meat from animals subject to treatment that "differ[s] little, if at all, from the industry's paltry minimum standards."
The suit further alleges that the 5-Step certification program is "not enforced in any meaningful way," and that the audit process occurs infrequently, enabling suppliers to be out of compliance for years without losing certification.
"'Humane meat' is a myth that dupes well-intentioned shoppers into paying higher prices for the very products of crowding, lingering death, and suffering that they were trying to avoid," says PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman.
"The only way to avoid the pervasive cruelty involved in modern meat production is to go vegan, but PETA's lawsuit seeks an end to Whole Foods' lies," Goodman adds.
PETA filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.
At press time, Whole Foods had not offered a statement on the case.