Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

November 25, 2015

Is Whole Foods Doubling Down on Fraud?

 Mortality records from the Whole Foods farm.
Mortality records from the Whole Foods farm.

Six stumbling defenses by the company in response to a shocking turkey exposé

by Wayne Hsiung

Yesterday, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) released what was, to many, a shocking exposé of one of the most celebrated “humane” farms on the planet -- the Step 5+ Diestel Turkey Ranch. Our investigation found, contrary to the marketing, thousands of miserable birds crowded in dismal conditions and a "front" farm that was used, not for production, but as a deceptive marketing ploy

But Whole Foods, unlike many companies hit with investigations, is doubling down in support of its now discredited supplier. Here are six ways Whole Foods is defending Diestel…  and why those defenses fall apart on further scrutiny. 

1. “Whole Foods immediately had GAP  investigate the farm and didn’t find conditions shown in the video.” 

Whole Foods lacks the capability to do a real investigation, even if they wanted to. Until recently, the company’s GAP program had only a single employee, yet they claim to supervise the audits of 290 million animals. Imagine the entire US government run by President Obama. Alone. 

Moreover, Diestel's own records (held for Whole Foods' GAP program) show that it violated GAP standards -- e.g. as many as 6.9% of birds in some barns were dying in a single week. So Whole Foods' investigators failed to check their own audit records?

2.  “How do we know the footage is from our farm?”

Apparently the company has not yet heard of GPS. Or an iPhone. All such photos/video, in the modern age, are tagged with specific location data, as reported in the Washington Post. 

3. “The footage isn’t representative! It’s from one barn. Or from one day!” 

Our investigation spanned 9 months and covered every single one of the barns on site. 

4. “We did disclose that we had a factory farm! Consumers were warned."

There was not a single reference to GAP Step 3 (the lower standard farm) on the Whole Foods or Diestel website… until they were confronted by reporters. Then, magically, Diestel’s website changed. Why would they feel the need to change their website if they didn’t have something to hide?

5. “Maybe we don’t produce all of the birds at the Step 5+ farm… but the conditions are the same!”

Our investigators went straight from Sonora (the fake farm) to Jamestown (the real farm) and found a night and day difference. Notably, none of the birds at the Jamestown facility were ever outside, as the company now concedes.

Of course, that didn’t stop Whole Foods and Diestel from marketing the farms as "range grown" and having “enhanced outdoor access." 

6. “Ok, we fibbed. But the lies were immaterial or small in number.” 

There was a systematic pattern of fraud by Diestel and Whole Foods.


- “We never feed any… chemicals to the turkeys.” 

We found boxes upon boxes of chemical additives in the Diestel barns with names like "Biosupreme" and "Io-Med 35" -- intended to control disease or mitigate stress in the crowded flocks. 

- “Sustainability in action.” 

In fact, Diestel has recently been cited for both air and water pollution violations. The latter conduct was described as “criminal” by the state of California, as the company had been leaking toxic sludge into drinking water reservoirs.

- “It came from here (i.e. the Step 5+ farm).” 

The words of the Diestel Sales Rep, at the Sonora sham farm, when one of our undercover investigators asked her about the source of Whole Foods turkey. This was blatantly false, as the company now concedes. 

- “arge, outdoor enclosures allowing freedom to roam.

On a brochure handed out by Whole Foods about Diestel turkey. As noted, even Diestel now concedes this is a fraud. The birds are never allowed outdoors.

These are not minor or occasional issues. These are deceits that go to the core of what Diestel -- and Whole Foods -- are all about. But then why would Whole Foods double down on fraud, when most other retailers distance themselves from suppliers exposed for horrific abuses? There are at least three reasons. 

First, Whole Foods' brand, unlike McDonald’s, is linked to their suppliers. Whole Foods has made professional ads with Diestel. It has referenced Diestel over 1500 times on its site. And it named Diestel the first ever Step 5+ turkey farm (and one of only three Step 5+ farms in its entire supply chain).

Second, Whole Foods is unusually dependent on “humane” suppliers. It can’t cut ties with Diestel and go to… Butterball. Similarly, it can’t ask Diestel to fire a few workers because the nature of our footage is systemic -- not just occasional instances of abuse but farm-wide conditions that were unspeakably cruel.

Third, the company has a culture of playing loose with the facts. From the CEO’s denial of climate change to shenanigans involving manipulation of competitor stock prices, Whole Foods has never taken truth seriously. 

The moral for consumers and activists? Piecemeal attempts at reform are almost inevitably doomed, when the institutions that are implementing the reforms -- whether corporate or government -- are biased against the animals. Truly effective reform will require fundamental changes in our political system, such as legal personhood for animals or independent agencies devoted to (and beholden to) animal protection. These changes, in turn, are only possible with a true political movement for animals. So let's go make that happen!