Perdue Foods, one of the nation's largest poultry producers, recently unveiled a precedent-setting commitment to improving animal welfare, which involves much higher standards and requirements for its poultry facilities. Citing the "five freedoms," a set of ethical imperatives for farmed animal welfare, 2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care outlines the company's efforts to implement on-farm improvements such as environmental enrichment and natural light; curb malicious abuse; and eliminate cruel live-shackle slaughter.
Perdue also addresses the unnaturally rapid growth rates of chickens, which cause incredible discomfort to birds — crippling them under their own weight, rendering them immobile, leaving them in constant pain, and causing many to die of organ failure. Additionally, the policy mandates annual third-party audits and increased video surveillance — including of transport areas — to deter instances of animal abuse.
Most notable is the policy's commitment to replacing live-shackle slaughter methods with less cruel Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, a move that will spare millions of birds from the traditional method — which consists of dumping, shackling, shocking, and slitting the throats of conscious animals. This change is even more meaningful given that chickens, who comprise 95 percent of land animals raised and killed for food in the U.S., are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
The new policy follows a disturbing undercover investigation by animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals (MFA) at two of Perdue’s contract chicken factory farms — Deese Farm and Hideaway Farms in Rockingham, North Carolina. Hidden-camera footage reveals sickening animal abuse, including birds kicked like footballs, thrown against walls, and violently stomped to death by callous workers; workers spinning birds around by their heads to break their necks; chickens bred to grow so fast they buckled under their own weight and died from heart attacks; and hundreds of thousands of birds crammed into filthy, windowless sheds forced to live for months in their own waste. Following the investigation, one worker was convicted of animal cruelty. Moreover, nearly 182,000 consumers signed an MFA petition on Change.org urging Perdue to adopt more stringent animal welfare standards.
"We praise Perdue for utilizing its power and influence within the poultry sector to improve the lives of animals,” MFA president Nathan Runkle said in a statement. “With this announcement, it's never been clearer that the days are numbered for many of the industry's cruelest practices, including breeding birds to grow so fast they're in constant pain and subjecting birds to a terrifying and torturous slaughter process.
"Perdue's addition of natural light and environmental enrichment will also make a difference for millions of birds who are otherwise stuffed into windowless, waste-filled sheds; cloaked in darkness; and unable to engage in most natural behaviors,” he added. “Perdue's policy represents important progress and we look forward to seeing the company establish deadlines for the implementation of these crucial changes.”
While there is still work to be done, Perdue's commitment is the most comprehensive animal welfare policy ever adopted by a major chicken producer. Of the more than 8 billion chickens killed for meat annually in the U.S., Perdue's policy will reduce the suffering of nearly 680 million birds on 2,200 farms. As he commended Perdue for this important step, Runkle made it clear MFA had other industry giants in its crosshairs.
"Perdue's leadership will also hopefully inspire other companies to adopt similar meaningful animal welfare requirements. It's now time for Tyson, Foster Farms and others to stop dragging their feet and reduce the needless pain and suffering animals endure on factory farms and in slaughterhouses."
This is the latest in a string of similar victories for MFA, which in the past two years has prompted sweeping improvements in protections for farm animals from food giants including Nestlé, Kraft Foods, Great Lakes Cheese and Walmart.