Perdue ups ante on US poultry welfare
Over the next several years, all of Perdue’s chickens — 676 million last year — will bask in sunlight, part of an ambitious overhaul of the American poultry giant’s animal welfare practices. The commitment will hold the country’s fourth-largest producer to standards similar to those in Europe, which the American poultry industry has long dismissed as antiquated, inefficient and costly.
In addition to installing windows, the company plans to give its chickens more space in barns. It may tinker with breeding to decrease the speed at which birds grow or to reduce their breast size, steps that could decrease the number and severity of leg injuries, an issue that has brought unwanted attention to the company.
Also, Perdue will put its chickens to sleep before slaughter, a step taken several years ago by Bell & Evans, a smaller poultry company.
“We are going to go beyond what a chicken needs and give chickens what they want,” said Jim Perdue, whose grandfather founded the business in 1920.
The industry has long argued that such standards would raise costs to producers that would eventually be passed on to consumers. But Perdue, which had $6-billion in sales last year and increased production more than 9 percent, is betting such concerns are overblown based on its experience so far.
“It will change the way we do business in so many ways,” Perdue said.
Numerous surveys conducted by the dairy and meat industries suggest that people care and want to know about animal welfare. For that reason, Perdue said, the company plans to issue annual reports on its progress on the new standards.
“We want to be held accountable,” he said. “If we mess up, we have to be prepared to say we messed up.”
In late 2014, Compassion in World Farming, an animal rights group, released video taken at a barn under contract to Perdue that showed birds with raw, red chests from sitting too long on litter laden with ammonia and faeces.
A few months earlier, Perdue agreed to stop using the phrase “humanely raised” on packages of its Harvestland brand of chicken to settle a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States.
Still, in an interview a year ago, Perdue was unapologetic, emphasising that the USDA had signed off on Perdue’s animal welfare standards.
So Leah Garces, director of Compassion’s American arm, was surprised this winter when Perdue invited her to talk about animal welfare with Bruce Stewart-Brown, its senior vice president for food safety, quality and live operations.
“When you sit down at the table with someone like Bruce, who’s repping a large chicken company, you think you can’t possibly have anything in common,” Garces said. “Then you start talking, and you realise that you have more in common than you thought.”
She said that while Tyson Foods, the country’s largest poultry producer, asked its farmers to adopt what are known as the five freedoms of animal welfare — including freedom from discomfort and freedom from fear and distress — Perdue is going further by insisting that its farmers enforce them.
“Perdue is going well beyond what Tyson has done, and no other big poultry producer has come close to those two,” Garces said.
Over the last decade or so, Perdue has done more than any other major American poultry producer to eliminate antibiotics of all kinds from its procedures. That made it impossible to continue raising so many birds in as tight spaces and under conditions many people consider unsanitary.
Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest chicken producer in the world, are also reducing their use of antibiotics…..
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