Only four companies control the bulk of the chicken industry, and one of them just made a huge announcement to improve the lives of its chickens.
In what our Executive Director Leah Garces called “a momentous first step,” Perdue Farms has become the first major chicken company to publish a detailed animal welfare policy that lays out their current practices and plans for improvement.
This was a surprise and humble move by Perdue. It comes just a year and a half after Compassion in World Farming released a video of one of Perdue's own contract farmers speaking out against chicken factory farming.
95% of all farmed animals in the United States are chickens raised for meat. Most are raised in overcrowded, barren conditions with no natural light. Because of Americans' preference for white breast meat, chickens have been selectively bred to grow very big, very fast. They often find it difficult to walk, collapsing under the weight of their own bodies, and can suffer from heart attacks and other immune issues.
Here’s a quick timeline on how we got to this point:
Which brings us to today. Less than a year after acknowledging they should do better, Perdue is committing to:
- Doubling the rate of the birds’ physical activity within three years. Importantly, they name slower-growing breeds as one solution.
- Requiring windows for natural light in all new chicken houses, and in 200 existing houses.
- Having Controlled Atmosphere Stunning in all Perdue facilities, eventually.
- Sharing transparent metrics to be held accountable for animal welfare.
Compassion will continue to work with Perdue to make their commitments stronger. For example, all existing chicken houses should have windows for natural light (not just 200). The genetics of the birds is a key priority, as slower-growing breeds have fewer leg abnormalities, respiratory issues, and immune problems. We ask Perdue to put timelines on all commitments, and to ensure all birds are given more space, natural light, enrichment, and slower-growth.
It’s encouraging that although we may have started as adversaries, Perdue invited us to sit at the table with them to work towards a better life for chickens. It’s something we all want, as farmers, consumers, food companies, animal advocates, or the animals themselves. And the only way we’ll get there is by hearing each other out.
Rest assured, you have been heard!
Lately the focus has been on laying hens, as more and more companies commit to 100% cage-free eggs in response to consumer demand. We can say with certainty that cages for hens will soon be a relic. Attention is now starting to shift to chickens raised for meat, which was always the goal of our Better Chicken Initiative. Some early market leaders have already taken action.
Compass, the world’s largest food service company, committed last year to work with suppliers to address fast-growth rates and poor living conditions for chickens. In March, Whole Foods Market became the first company to commit, with a timeline, to phase out all fast-growing chicken breeds sold in its stores, through the animal welfare certification Global Animal Partnership.
While there is plenty of room for improvement, this latest announcement by Perdue has potential. We commend The Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals for their role in helping to make this commitment from Perdue a reality. “Time will tell what it will mean for the birds, but it is a momentous first step in the right direction,” Garces says.
As for Craig Watts, he is no longer a contract farmer for Perdue. He paved the way for other chicken factory farm owners to become whistleblowers themselves against an unjust system. Craig is in the process of planning his future livelihood. Just last month we brought Gene Bauer, founder of Farm Sanctuary, to visit Craig’s empty chicken houses and dream up what they could be used for instead of factory farming. Stay tuned!
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