Whole Foods Market, one of the largest U.S. natural foods grocers, is ensuring it has no ties with the California chicken hatchery accused in a lawsuit this week of abusing baby chicks, a spokeswoman said Friday.
Whole Foods "had about five degrees of separation" from Cal-Cruz Hatcheries Inc., said Beth Krauss, spokeswoman for the Austin, Texas, based chain of more than 300 markets. She looked into Whole Foods' link to Cal-Cruz following a HuffPost email inquiry on Wednesday. A lawsuit was filed that day in Santa Cruz, Calif., by an animal rights group, asking a judge to halt abuse filmed by an undercover investigator that included hatchlings tossed into buckets of waste, piled into bins and left to die after being mangled by machinery.
"Moving forward, we will not be working with any ranches that receive chicks from Cal-Cruz," Krauss said.
Whole Foods buys chicken from distributors that rely on ranches to raise the birds from hatchlings. Krauss explained that the company's network of suppliers in some cases stretches back to Cal-Cruz, which sold chicks to Central Coast Fryer. Central Coast Fryer in turn sold chickens to Field to Family Natural Foods, which sold them to Whole Foods.
The grower Bauer Family Farms was previously part of Central Coast's network, but the companies no longer work together, Krauss said. She didn't know why. Whole Foods will continue to work with Bauer, Krauss said, "but they are no longer going to have any Cal-Cruz chicks coming to them because they won't be working with Central Coast any longer."
Within eight weeks, Whole Foods will stop receiving chickens born at Cal-Cruz, Krauss said. The supermarket chain needs that much time because another Cal-Cruz-linked supplier, Pitman Farms, is opening its own hatchery, she said.
The decision to sever ties with Cal-Cruz was made by individual farms, not by Whole Foods, and Krauss said she couldn't say if the moves were related to the abuse allegations.
Bauer Family Farms and Central Coast Fryers did not return messages seeking comment. Field to Family declined comment. Cal-Cruz didn't return calls.
The lawsuit against Cal-Cruz was filed by Washington, D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing, represented by Animal Legal Defense Fund attorneys. A Compassion Over Killing undercover investigator's video showed hatchlings with ripped skin being tossed into bins, trapped under machinery and drowned.
Cal-Cruz has 30 days to admit or deny the allegations. Cheryl Leahy, Compassion Over Killing's general counsel, said the hatchery is still operating and "we have no reason to think the hatchery has made any significant changes to its practices."
"The point of that was to encourage ranchers to improve their welfare practices and also better inform our customers about how the animals are raised," Krauss said. "We're one of the few retailers directly addressing animal welfare. Issues like this just prove how important that 5-step program is. But it's a work in progress."
Clarification: While Global Animal Partnership runs the program, they don't perform the inspections.
WATCH COK's undercover video from within Cal-Cruz: