“Human beings are all going to die, too.”

It seems that the animal movement is busy tripping over itself scrambling frantically for the best position to kiss the corporate posterior of Whole Foods Market and its CEO, John Mackey.

Sure, Whole Foods sells tons of animal corpses (fresh and frozen) and thousands of animal products. But have no fear, animal advocates. These are “happy” animal products. No less a luminary than Peter Singer, the so-called “father of the animal rights movement,” tells us that “Whole Foods has set up an Animal Compassion Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization the mission of which is ‘to provide education and research services to assist and inspire ranchers and meat producers around the world to achieve a higher standard of animal welfare excellence while still maintaining economic viability.’” (The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, 181) Now that’s radical, eh? The Animal Compassion Foundation is going to “assist and inspire” those who produce animal corpses to improve things to the extent that they can make an acceptable profit. In other words, we can sell them and make a profit, but you, the “compassionate consumer,” can feel good about it. Expect a revolution.

Whole Foods, according to Our Father, is an “ethical business,” (183) part of what Singer considers to be the “conscientious omnivore” approach to the exploitation of nonhumans. And Whole Foods promises that “[p]roducers who successfully meet these voluntary Standards will be able to label their products with the special ‘Animal Compassionate’ designation.” Yet another “happy” meat label, to compete with the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label and the Freedom Foods label. So many “happy” meat choices!

Singer, along with welfarist corporations the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Farm Sanctuary, Compassion Over Killing, and Vegan Outreach, and others, wrote Mackey a public letter expressing “appreciation and support for the pioneering initiative being taken by Whole Foods Market in setting Farm Animal Compassionate Standards.” When asked whether Singer was troubled that Whole Foods was using the letter for PR purposes, Singer responded:

I don’t have any problem with that. I support what the letter says and they’re welcome to use it. I mean, we wrote it to them expecting them to use it. It wasn’t just a personal letter to John Mackey to be put in his filing cabinet.

PETA gave Whole Foods an award in 2004, stating that Whole Foods “has consistently done more for animal welfare than any retailer in the industry, requiring that its producers adhere to strict standards.”

VegNews Magazine featured Mackey on its cover and has given awards to Whole Foods and Mackey.

Even Tom Regan, who tries so hard to distinguish himself from Singer, has jumped on the Whole Foods bandwagon. At the 2005 International Compassionate Living Festival, which was intended to celebrate “exemplary individuals who dared to challenge the status quo and take up the cause of the oppressed,” Regan had Mackey as the keynote speaker. Regan’s brochure described Mackey as “vegan CEO of Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket and a driving force behind higher standards in animal welfare.”

Some animal advocates may object to the fact that Singer, Regan, PETA, VegNews, and other “happy” meat advocates have become the marketing division for institutional exploiters, like Whole Foods, whose businesses rely on the public’s not accepting animal rights. Some animal advocates may claim that there is something downright crazy about celebrating Whole Foods as a more “humane” slave owner whose overseers beat the slaves 5 times a day rather than 6 times.

But such objections would be unjustified. These “happy” meat advocates have a right to be gushing over Whole Foods. This is a corporation that cares. And it cares a lot.

Take for example, Whole Foods’ recent action concerning lobsters.

In June 2006, Whole Foods announced that it had studied a report that concluded that lobsters and crabs are sentient, or subjectively aware, and had concluded that until “‘sufficient improvements are possible in the handling of live lobsters to ensure humane treatment throughout the supply chain,’” Whole Foods would not sell live lobsters.

PETA celebrated a “Victory for Lobsters and Crabs!”

The June 16, 2006 Whole Foods announcement also said that Whole Foods would continue to “sell select raw and cooked frozen lobster products” so the “Victory” was that the “compassionate consumer” would be free from seeing the lobsters in a Whole Foods tank; they would be killed somewhere else and their corpses taken to Whole Foods for sale.

According to reports on February 8, 2007 in The Boston Globe and the Portland Press Herald, Whole Foods is going to waive its ban on lobsters for a new Whole Foods store opening in Portland, Maine.

But do not be alarmed, animal advocates. Whole Foods Market has the best interests of the lobsters at heart.

Although Whole Foods will allow marketing of the lobsters at the Portland store, these lobsters will, as soon as they are caught, be arranged “vertically, claws up and tails down in plastic cubbyholes”—what Whole Foods calls “condos.”

And to illustrate the point that good morals and good business go hand in hand—that animal welfare is linked to the efficient exploitation of animals as I have long argued—this is a “win-win” situation for the lobster producers and sellers as well as for the lobsters! Little Bay Lobster Co., which developed these “condos,” states that traditional shipping methods mean that “about 5 percent of lobsters die in transport, costing the Maine lobster industry up to $20 million annually.” The lobster “condos” isolate the lobsters from each other by confining them in the plastic sleeves and thereby reduce the deaths that occur when lobsters crawl over each other. Moreover, the “condo” method “improves the appearance of lobsters at market, where picky customers might not want one with its antennae chewed off by one of its crate-mates,” according to Little Bay, which added: “We did it for the bottom line. But in the end, it achieved Whole Foods’ goals.”

And Little Bay is surely going to need a better bottom line. On February 10, 2007, the Portland Press Herald reported that Little Bay was fined $86,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 for illegally discharging pollutants into a river and other violations, including dipping lobster traps in a toxic chemical and allowing the chemical to get washed into a river.

Now you are probably asking about killing the lobsters. Do not concern yourself, animal advocates! Do you think that Peter Singer, Tom Regan, PETA, and all the other members of the Whole Foods Cheerleader Squad would mislead you?

Any lobster who is at the store for more than seven days (they will be “tracked by color-coded claw bands”) will be “zapped and end up in the deli as lobster salad or other delicacies.” Yes, “workers will use a ‘CrustaStun’ device to instantaneously kill lobsters with 110 volts rather than steaming.” Customers can also have their lobsters electrocuted before they take them home.

Finally, people can eat lobster again without feeling guilty about having to boil them. This is surely what being a “conscientious omnivore” is all about—exploiting animals while simultaneously feeling morally superior. Who could ask for anything more?

But what about consumer choice? Doesn’t that matter? What if a consumer wants to boil his lobster rather than it being “humanely” electrocuted at Whole Foods? After all, Peter Singer told us in The Way We Eat, that John Mackey has a “libertarian outlook.” (182) Singer mentions this in the context of explaining why Mackey opposes labor unions at Whole Foods. But surely, a guy who opposes labor unions on libertarian grounds has to be concerned about consumer choice.

And he is. The Boston Globe reports: “Customers will still be able to purchase live lobsters and kill them at home.”

For a moment there, I was worried.

But what about “humane” treatment; after all, isn’t it really nasty to boil a live lobster? Calm down. Whole Foods has it covered. The Portland Press Herald reports: “Customers who leave with live lobsters will be given a card outlining a humane preparation method.”

So there you have it:

  • “Condos” for the lobsters and greater profitability for the lobster industry.
  • Electrocution of lobsters with the “CrustaStun” for the really “compassionate” consumer who wants lobster with minimal guilt.
  • “Humane” boiling for the less “compassionate” but nevertheless “conscientious omnivore.”
  • Conventional boiling for the rest but even these consumers are morally better than those who shop at conventional supermarkets because they bought their lobsters at Whole Foods, an act that in itself is a declaration of commitment to the Animal Compassionate lifestyle.
  • And if you buy your lobster on one of the special shopping days when Whole Foods donates 5% of global sales to the Animal Compassion Foundation, then you can contribute to better animal welfare for farmed animals when you buy your lobster.

Can there be any doubt as to why the “happy” meat/animal products crowd is so very excited about Whole Foods and John Mackey? Surely not.

No wonder PETA rushed to praise Whole Foods for its flip-flop on the lobster ban, saying that although PETA wished no one sold lobsters, Whole Foods should be “applauded, however, for trying to improve lobsters’ living conditions before sale.” In another Boston Globe story on February 7, 2007, it was reported that “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Virginia-based animal rights group, would rather Whole Foods not sell live lobsters, but it said the company should also be commended for ensuring that the animals are being treated humanely. ‘Our expectation is that all Maine stores that sell live lobsters will have to implement animal welfare protocols in order compete with Whole Foods, which would be a good thing,’ Matt Prescott said from PETA’s offices in Norfolk, Va.”

A Victory for Lobsters!

Perhaps PETA will do a new video with a woman dressed as a lobster who will do a striptease down to her lobster antennae and then enter a big pot, smiling and waving as she is “zapped” with a mock “CrustaStun” device.

For those who think that this is all quite tragic, take heart. I leave you with a philosophical thought from David Lannon, Whole Foods North Atlantic Regional President: “Human beings are all going to die, too. But the quality of life is important while we’re alive. It’s the same with animals.”

Now that’s profound.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione