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Americans are increasingly second-guessing the costs and benefits of industrial agriculture. But, as Michael Pollan wrote in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, excerpted in Mother Jones this summer, not all solutions to the problem are equal. Pollan profiled Joel Salatin, a trendsetter in the local food movement who makes hash of Whole Foods, comparing its business model to Wal-Mart's. (Whole Foods CEO John Mackey fired off a sardonic letter to the editor, asking whether Pollan's book was sold only in Berkeley.)
Now, as today's New York Times reports, Whole Foods is introducing an "animal compassionate" label to identify meat from animals that were raised humanely (if industrial agriculture, among other human mores, hasn't rendered the word meaningless). The good news is Whole Foods will be flexing its substantial muscle to ensure that its suppliers comply with the standards it has established, which demand, for instance, that animals be raised outdoors. The bad news is, consumers will now have to choose among an even larger array of labels that sound good, but are hard to decipher and are not enforced by the USDA, thanks to the agency's belief that organic and animal-friendly agriculture amounts to no more than a "marketing program".