John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Responds to James McWilliams Letter Calling for an End to Meat Sales

whole foods market logoA while back I wrote about a demonstration in Paris calling for the closure of all slaughterhouses. Why the hell not? Killing is killing. Stop killing animals for a food source we don’t really need was the simple and clear message from the group of over 450 French demonstrators that day. Just the other day I learned about an open letter James McWilliams sent to Whole Foods Market which I found to be a brilliant plea with the same clear and courageous message that the French demonstrators delivered. And today John Mackey, the CEO of WFM responded with the letter that follows. For me, one of the most startling insights from this letter was the admission by Mackey that the high welfare meat program is largely responsible for his company’s incredible success, contradicting the claim made by the animal welfare groups that welfare reform = decreased meat consumption. Here is the letter verbatim:

Dear Jimmy,

In response to your open letter, Whole Foods Market has no plans to stop selling meat and poultry…or seafood, eggs and dairy items for that matter. Our work in the world of animal welfare makes a difference in the way hundreds of millions of farm animals are raised every year. It supports a network of several thousand hardworking farmers and ranchers who are improving the welfare of livestock animals. Giving up on our initiative at this point won’t slow the rate of animals being processed and it won’t encourage Whole Foods Market’s carnivore customers to stop eating meat. It will simply shift purchases of meat to other retailers, to those that have not invested millions of dollars and many years of hard work to ensure that animals are raised with care and respect, and slaughtered with a minimum amount of stress. Whole Foods Market isn’t selling humanely raised animals simply because they are eventually killed for food. That is not true. Also, for you to suggest that selling meat is only about the bottom line at our company simply is not true either. Our first stakeholder is our customer and most of them purchase and eat meat. As a mission driven company, it’s our job to offer high quality choices to our discerning customers to accommodate their food preferences. We are committed to prompting real change in the meat industry. And, as you point out, we are also working hard to help educate consumers about the importance of incorporating more whole plant foods— primarily vegetables, grains, beans and fruits— into their diets, which as a result means less meat consumption. As you know, we have many more vegan and vegetarian shoppers than conventional grocers, but the vast majority of our customers purchase animal foods. At the most, about 10 percent of our customers are strict vegetarians and probably around three percent are strict vegans. To not offer a full array of food options is basically suggesting that we voluntarily commit business suicide.

To give you perspective, Safer Way in Austin was a strictly vegetarian store and our sales were low. When we relocated the store, changed the name to Whole Foods Market and began selling meat, our popularity blossomed in the Austin community and our sales increased by 15 times. By expanding our offerings to all types of foods including meat products, we were able to spread awareness of natural and organic alternatives and grow over time to 340 stores in three countries. We have gone to great efforts to improve our animal welfare processes and we have made great progress. We provide transparency at the meat counters through farm traceability and Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating system. We would like to offer you the opportunity to visit a few of our ranchers and farmers who have achieved high animal welfare ratings, meaning they have cleared more than 100 hurdles for humane treatment above and beyond what conventional producers do! Let me know if you are interested in touring some farms. As we continue to grow, we are uniquely positioned to affect animal welfare across the nation and around the world. We pledge to continuously help promote real and positive change for farm animals. To do so, we must commit to significantly improving the meat industry rather than abandoning it altogether. Thanks for your perspective. We have long respected your work and we appreciate your patronage, thoughtful insights, and you being a champion of our brand.


John Mackey
Co-Founder & Co-CEO

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  1. As disappointing as this letter may be, it does not in anyway contradict the fact that welfare reforms = decreased meat consumption. All Mackey is saying is that a lot of people who would normally buy factory farmed animal products from conventional grocery stores have started buying so-called “humane” animal products from Whole Foods. Since “humane” animal products typically cost more, it makes sense that these people are also decreasing their meat consumption. It also stands to reason that many people choose to give up meat entirely when they learn about animal welfare issues from welfare reform campaigns. It’s true that some vegans and vegetarians have gone back to eating meat because they think animals are treated better, but the stats show that meat consumption has been in a steady decline since about 2005 when welfare reforms really started being pushed through via legislation. That said, obviously vegan advocacy is necessary to bring about a vegan world and to abolish the exploitation of animals, but that doesn’t mean strategic welfare reform campaigns don’t have an important part to play in getting more people to consider the plights of animals seriously.

  2. I can make this short and not very sweet…the reason he won’t is because of the almighty buck! No other reason!

  3. Veganism is all about “whole foods.” I truly believe that using that name is a desecration of the idea of healthy consumption. We know there is no such thing as humane animal exploitation, and it IS all about the money. Using Texas as an example of needing to sell meat to succeed is a transparently unfair justification, due to the obvious indoctrination of the communities there because of tradition and industry. Here in California they would do just fine without their meat counter. We know what whole foods are, and they don’t include meat or dairy. I was a regular customer of theirs in their San Mateo store, but since I saw their disgusting announcement of a butcher’s convention, with the top prize going to the butcher who creates a “new cut of meat” that they can market, they haven’t seen another penny from my paycheck. Subjugation of innocents for profit is unethical, immoral, backwards – and this pretense of creating a better world on the backs of slaughtered animals is ridiculously indicative of our continuing cognitive dissonance on this issue. There’s nothing Whole about their mission, as far as me and millions of fellow animal activists are concerned. It’s about the animals, not the bottom line. Shameful.

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