Emphasizing that it’s doing what’s right for animals, Whole Foods Market plans to implement humane-animal-handling standards by requiring meat suppliers to meet specified requirements by late 2004.

Whole Foods, a natural-foods’ retailer with 147 stores and sales of $3.2 billion last year, will be the first major grocery chain to make such a move. While the retailer admits pressure from animal-rights groups may have played a small role in its decision, the fact is animal welfare is on everyone’s radar. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 96 percent of Americans say “animals deserve ‘some’ protection from harm and exploitation.”

This follows the Food Marketing Institute’s and National Council of Chain Restaurant’s joint action to establish specific animal-care and handling standards. It is anticipated that other retailers and restaurant chains will follow.