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PETA withdraws call for boycott of Safeway stores Under pressure, grocer agrees to periodically inspect slaughterhouses to make sure animals are treated humanely

 By Janet Adamy

A prominent animal rights group said Wednesday it will stop urging shoppers to boycott Safeway because the grocery giant has agreed to more closely monitor animal conditions at its meat suppliers.

 Pleasanton-based Safeway struck a deal with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Tuesday to inspect a pig farm and implement a set of trade group guidelines that will improve living conditions for chickens and cows.

 As a result, PETA has canceled the colorful protest it planned to hold outside the Safeway shareholders meeting in San Ramon scheduled for today. It would have included costumed cow and butcher performers enacting a cow skinning with a papier-mβchι ax.

 "We're delighted," said Bruce Friedrich, director of PETA's vegan campaign. "It is a first in U.S. history, and our assumption is that Kroger, Albertson's and Wal-Mart will be forced to make similar concessions."

 Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling said the boycott didn't impact the company, and that accepting the guidelines wasn't a bow to pressure. "I think it was a combination of us being tuned into the issue in general, but we'll give PETA credit for alerting the food industry about a year and a half ago to the issue."

 PETA had complained that hens raised for Safeway are packed into small cages that prevent them from stretching their wings and that suppliers slice off chickens' beaks to keep them from pecking each other. PETA alleged breeding sows are kept in concrete stalls that prevent the animals from being able to move for months at a time.

 The Food Marketing Institute, an industry trade group, won't release its guidelines until June, but PETA and Safeway confirmed they will mandate:

• Unannounced inspections of cattle, pig and chicken slaughterhouses.
• A system to guarantee animals don't feel pain before they're killed.
• Increased cage space for hens that are laying eggs.
• More humane handling procedures for chickens in slaughterhouses.
• Refusal to buy from suppliers that starve chickens to induce an extra laying cycle.
• Unannounced audits of Seaboard Farms, a pig meat supplier where PETA videotaped pigs being beaten.
• Grocers stop buying from suppliers that fail such audits.
• Eliminate the most severe de-beaking.

 Dowling added that the company already inspects the way its suppliers treat their animals. He said Seaboard has fired the workers who abused the pigs. PETA did not get everything it wanted. Friedrich said the group would have preferred that Safeway immediately implement the animal treatment standards it pushed for and achieved at fast-food restaurants McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's.

 PETA launched the boycott in February -- its first of a grocery chain -- after more than a year of asking Safeway to pressure its suppliers to treat their animals better. Bay Area animal rights activists have been standing outside Safeway stores in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco every week since February passing out fliers that urge customers to stop shopping there.

 Even though PETA has been asking other grocers for similar concessions, it originally singled out Safeway for the boycott because it claimed Safeway was particularly unresponsive. It's now turning its attention to Kroger and Albertson's, Friedrich said.

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