Perdue Farms Releases First Chicken Welfare Report, Says Improvements Being Made

One of the largest chicken producers in the United States, Perdue Farms recently released its first-ever chicken welfare report in July 2017. The company says it has taken important steps to follow through on plans it announced a little over a year ago to change the way it raises and slaughters chickens. [1]

Perdue says in the report that it implemented new breeding methods which allow chickens to grow at a faster rate without causing them harm. The company additionally claimed that it would install stunning systems that minimize stress to the birds as they’re headed to slaughter.

Over time, the changes will be rolled out to about 1,500 contract farmers and 5,000 chicken houses, according to company chairman Jim Perdue and senior vice president Bruce Stewart-Brown.

Factory Farms Have a Serious Negative-Image

In recent years, Perdue Farms has had its share of problems. One I can recall off-hand was in 2014, when farmer Craig Watts – a contractor for Perdue at the time – revealed shocking video footage of the filthy, unhealthy, and downright inhumane living conditions suffered by chickens produced for the company.

Watts, who eventually left the chicken farming industry in disgust, went on to release equally disturbing video footage of the horrid living conditions and treatment of chickens produced for Pilgrim’s Pride.

In both videos, over-large chickens are seen crammed together in a filthy warehouse. They have no natural light in to bask in, and the birds must literally trample each other just to get to their feed.

‘Positive Changes are Coming’

Perdue Farms, the 4th-largest poultry producer in the country, is the largest poultry producer to ensure chickens in its supply chain are treated better, according to Humane Society of the U.S. vice president Josh Balk.

The new chicken houses have lots of windows, space for the chickens to move about, even ramps and straw bales for the birds to perch on. [2]

Leah Garces, executive director of Compassion in World Farming, who recently took a tour of Perdue’s vision of the future, said “It’s a big difference.” She added that chickens in the house with natural light are “running around, climbing on things, pecking, perching,” compared with the chickens in the the windowless house, which are “quiet, they’re sitting, they’re not moving.”

Company executives say they’ve seen a substantial difference in the health and quality of the chickens raised in better conditions. Jim Perdue said the company found that when chickens are more active and not left squatting in cramped conditions, the meat is of higher quality, something they learned when they started raising their birds according to organic rules.

Jim said:

“We’re finding that meat from organic chickens is better. More tender. Different color. Activity is the key. [Organic chickens] are more active, they’re running around.”

Any person who has ever eaten organic, humanely-raised meat can attest that there is an elephantine difference in the quality and flavor of organic meat. The superior birds – the organic ones – are better for human health, too.

Source: The Guardian

Even without Perdue Farms’ revelations about the virtues of organic chicken farming, pressure from big corporate customers certainly would have forced the poultry producer to alter its behavior. These customers include food service companies and other institutions, such as Aramark and Compass, both of which have announced that by 2024, they will only purchase chickens from companies that improve the lives of its birds.

The food service companies say they’ll only purchase chickens from companies that raise them according to new animal welfare rules set in place by Global Animal Partnership, an organization originally launched by the grocery chain Whole Foods.

Those rules include:

  • Chicken houses will have natural light.
  • Chicken producers will use a new slaughtering process that knocks the birds unconscious with gas before they are killed. This will replace electrical stunning, which involves hanging the birds by their feet on a sort of conveyor belt and their heads come into contact with electrically charged water.

More Progress Needs to be Made

Perdue is on the path to meeting the requirements, but there is one hurdle that could be hard for the company to hop over: growing a chicken that can freely move about because it doesn’t fatten up as quickly.

In the secret videos recorded by Craig Watts, hugely fat chickens endeavor to navigate the facilities, balanced on its 2 scrawny legs, only for their legs to give out under the birds’ weight – an image described by Watts as “2 toothpicks sticking out a grape.”

Chickens are raised for breast meat, and for the last, oh, 60 years or so, chicken producers have been on a mission to increase the size of their birds in order to compete. The competition reaches as far down as the farmers themselves, whose pay depends on the amount of meat their birds produce. Chickens have quadrupled in size since the 1950’s, according to a 2014 study in the journal Poultry Science.

Source: Seattle Organic Restaurants

The Global Animal Partnership demands that companies use slower-growing breeds. The animal welfare group hasn’t decided which breeds will meet its standard, but Perdue Farms is studying 6 alternative breeds at a research farm.

Unfortunately, the switch to slower-growing chickens is likely to have a palpable impact on business. And because certain breeds of slower-growing chickens produce less breast meat and bigger legs, buyers can expect to feel the impact, too. They may have to pay more for poultry, or eat more dark meat.

Jim Purdue said:

“This is a big change for our company as well as the industry. Getting everyone aligned is the big challenge. From that aspect, I think things are going well as far as people understanding what we want to look like.” [3]


[1] Associated Press

[2] NPR

[3] Organic Authority

The Guardian

Seattle Organic Restaurants

Links to some of Perdue’s Latest Documents:

Commitments to Animal Care 2017 Press Release

Perdue Farms Statement on Meeting Demand for Chicken Welfare Standards

What Others Say About Perdue’s Animal Care Commitments 2017

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Whistleblower Reveals Why US Chickens Are Washed Down With Chlorine

A whistleblower who once worked for the 2nd largest chicken producer in the U.S. has come forward to tell the world about the birds’ horrible living conditions. He also sheds light on the reason why the overwhelming majority of US chicken producers wash the poultry in chlorine before putting it on the market.

Yes, chlorine. You know, like swimming pools.

According to the whistleblower, ex-North Carolina chicken farmer Craig Watts, tens of thousands of ultra-plump birds are stuffed into oversized warehouses, where they are so fat their legs buckle under their own weight. The chickens, which can reach 9 lbs., are not exposed to natural light and often die before they reach maturity. Many of them are covered in their own feces. [1]

This, the whistleblower claims, is why 97% of American chickens are washed in chlorine after they are slaughtered, though there is no legal requirement to do so.

Watts said:

“The birds are too heavy to stand because they have been bred for breast meat and nothing else, so they spend their lives squatting. It’s like 2 toothpicks sticking out of a grape.

They spend 95% of their time sitting on the litter, a mixture of pine shavings and fecal matter from that flock and prior flocks.”

It gets worse. Watts says the birds’ living conditions are so cramped, they injure one another just moving about the warehouse.

“Their flesh would rot, and when you have them crammed in so tight, they will walk over other birds if they want to get to the food or scratch the others and cause a wound. It is awful.” [2]

Watts said he quit the poultry business over the inhumane conditions, some of which was documented in shocking video footage filmed at 2 Pilgrim’s Pride facilities in Hull, Georgia. Chickens can be seen being tossed about by farm workers, and collapsing under their own weight. The owner of the farm can be seen bludgeoning the animals to death with a metal rod.  Chickens are pictured being violently shackled down and punched. [3]

We’ve included the video, but be warned; it is very difficult to watch.

After the Human Society of Georgia exposed the abuse, Pilgrim’s Pride said in a statement:

“Ensuring the well-being of the chickens under our care is an uncompromising commitment at Pilgrim’s.

This isolated incident of of unacceptable behavior does not reflect our approach to animal welfare or the approach of the more than 4,000 family farm partners who interact with our chickens daily.” [1]

America’s chicken farmers are under immense pressure to produce. Nearly all of them are contracted with major corporations like Pilgrim’s Pride, who supply them with chicks, feed, and equipment.

What the farmers can and cannot do depends on the firms’ regulations, and they are paid based on a “tournament system” that pits farmers against one another. The farmer who produces the most meat with the least feed “wins,” while the farmer who produces less will have money deducted from his pay. [3]

The payment system basically encourages farmers to cut corners, resulting in crueler, less hygienic living conditions for the chickens.

According to Jim Sumner, president of the US Poultry & Egg Export Council, US chickens are treated humanely, and chlorine-washing is only done as an added measure of safety which protects against food-borne illnesses.

Sumner said:

“Sometimes these [animal welfare] organizations do not have a thorough understanding of the process or scientific facts.”

But the fact that we have to chlorinate chicken before it can be eaten certainly seems to suggest that the living conditions inside farms may be as unhealthy for humans as they are for the livestock.

A senior policy analyst at the US Center for Food Safety, Jaydee Hanson said:

“These chemicals are basically like the ones we put in our toilets to clean them. The question is, why are chickens so contaminated in the first place?  And the issue is that we are not doing a good job of raising chickens.”

[2] Metro

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