Spotlight on: The Truth About Humanely Raised, Cage-Free Chicken Farms (Perdue and Contractors for Perdue)
By Rachael O'Halloran
December 9, 2014
Although chickens are also raised for their eggs, this article will discuss only those chickens that are raised for their meat on industrialized-factory farms which are usually under contract to large poultry companies.
If you were a chicken, how would you like to spend your day?
Thinking About Farm-Raised Chickens Conjures Up A Serene Picture
When you think of chickens being raised on farms, you might think of dozens of plump chickens grazing in open grassy land, clucking around excitedly, and scampering toward the farmer as he sprinkles their feed.
It's a nice thought, but it's not even close to today's reality if you are in business with the big poultry companies.
The average life span of a chicken being raised for its meat is between six and eight weeks. In the old days, it would take up to 120 days (17 weeks) for a chicken to mature and fatten up enough to be ready for market.
Today, that timetable is cut down to less than 45 days because the chickens are "bred" to grow big and to grow fast. One has to wonder what substances are being used to accomplish this feat while still being able to call the process "all natural" and "antibiotic free."
According to an investigation and subsequent report by Donald Kennedy, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, it shows that the top five poultry producers - Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods - routinely medicate their chickens with antibiotics even when they weren't sick.
Kennedy said "this creates a systematic source of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, the risks of which are not fully understood. This could be an even larger piece of the antibiotic-resistance problem than I had thought."
Perdue's Campaign "USDA Processed Verified"
Perdue's Claims Made Them A Target
Although other companies are also being cited for inhumane conditions, Perdue, the third largest chicken producing company in the United States, is targeted because of their long-standing label claims that their chickens are raised in humane conditions, antibiotic-free and are all-natural.
It's interesting to note that in 2010, celebrating 90 years in business, Perdue announced the first USDA "Processed Verified Program" while still professing "cage-free," "all veggie feed" and "humanely raised" chickens. To my recollection, for more than 10 years Perdue has claimed antibiotic free chickens and not just since 2010.
In September 2014, Perdue Farms announcedthat it had stopped its practice of injecting an antibiotic called Gentamicin into ready-to-hatch eggs in their chicken hatcheries.
The company said it wants “to move away from conventional antibiotic use” because of “growing consumer concern and our own questions about the practice.”
So why have we been hearing Perdue use the buzz words "antibiotic-free" since 2002 or so?
The patriarch of the family, Arthur Perdue, started the company in 1920.
In the 1950s, his son Frank Perdue took over running the business. His slogans in the 1970s commercials were wholesome and believable, and added to the family empire's wealth.
In 1991, Jim Perdue, Frank's son, took over as Chairman of Perdue Farms. He replaced his father in the company's commercials in 1994 and, although his commercials sort of lean toward corny, they still put across the same type of message:
"We raise the best chickens."
But do they actually raise all of the chickens?
They couldn't possibly, given the demand for chicken in the consumer market.
No, they subcontract out the baby chicks to farmers who own large factory farms to raise them for Perdue. In many cases, because Perdue pays well and the work is steady, these farmers went into debt in order to set themselves up as industrial chicken farmers.
After the contracts are signed, all the farmer has to do is raise the chickens the "Perdue way," using Perdue's chicken feed and allow access for the company veterinarians to do medical checkups and give medications.
- How often the vets visit the farms has not been disclosed. But after viewing the following video, it is obvious they had not visited Craig Watts' farm in at least one life cycle of the average chicken.
Each of the following videos agree that the chicken's over-sized breasts made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to walk. The over-crowded, confined living conditions are very hard to look at without cringing.
All the claims by Perdue rubbed Craig Watts the wrong way. Although his farm has been in his family since the 1700's, Craig Watts didn't take out large loans to industrialize his farm until 1992 when he signed on as a subcontractor for Perdue Farms. Bound by a contract to raise the chickens the Perdue way, Watts evidently followed the company guidelines to the letter, with full disregard to using a little bit of common sense in giving the chickens a few basic necessities.
Since 2012, Watts says he has been raising mostly antibiotic-free flocks for Perdue and a few other flocks that received low doses of the antibiotic narasin.
However, for 22 years, he made his living raising over 700,000 chickens per year for Perdue, daily watching many of them suffer and die.
Never once did he publicly complain to any humane society, or make a tell-all video, or give an interview decrying the conditions of the chickens, the Perdue methods, or the mortality rate on farms like his.
Then one day, after seeing a Perdue promotion that touted that they were "the only chicken producer sporting the USDA stamp of approval, raising chickens cage-free and in humane conditions," Watts says he decided to let people know the truth.
For over four months, Watts invited an animal activist group called "Compassion in World Farming" to document their findings of his four chicken houses, each crowded with over 80,000 chickens.
The following video has been viewed by over one million YouTube viewers, and within hours of uploading on December 4, 2014, Perdue reacted swiftly and, evidently, royally pissed. also
Perdue management descended on Craig Watts's farm, informing him they were conducting an "animal welfare audit."
Should he fail the audit, which to this writer's thinking is pretty much inevitable given he allowed this video and interview, he will lose his long-standing 22 year contract with Perdue and most likely be put out of the industrialized farm business. I don't think that news came as such a big surprise to him.
Video Alert: Graphic Content
I can tell you that this video made a tremendous impression on me so that I will never look at any kind of chicken the same way again - dead, alive, store bought, farm raised, free range or caged.
The Conditions At Craig Watts's Chicken Factory Farm in North Carolina
If you are like me, you found the above video appalling, and it is a true testament to how bad a chicken farm can be. I know if I owned this farm and raised chickens in such conditions, I'd be embarrassed to allow any organization, let alone a video camera, onto the property to show them how I was not being so humane in raising chickens.
Because consumers favor large meaty chicken breasts, the chickens are bred as such. Therefore they cannot carry their own weight on their short legs. They walk a few painful steps and keel over onto the very litter they've walked on that is contaminated with the ammonia-laden excrement of all the chickens. This eats away at the skin and feathers on their underbellies, leaving them with red, raw, weepy sores.
- One would think that this would require visits from the Perdue veternarian but how often that happened or if they were even called was not discussed.
- If any vet had routinely viewed these conditions on contract-required visits, we would likely have seen this particular video a lot sooner.
To date, Perdue Farms still portray themselves as squeaky clean chicken farmers, humanely raising cage-free chickens - providing nothing but the best conditions that rival the royal treatment of celebrities and dignitaries.
Let's examine the definitions and get to the root of their meanings.
Live birds dwell with dead birds
Perdue's Cage Free Label
Check out all the claims on the label!
Highly Inflated Price For Organic Chicken
Interesting Advertising For Organic Chicken
Trader Joe's advertisement reads:
In accordance with USDA guidelines for Organic Certification, these chickens are fed a diet of only a certified organic corn and organic soybean meal. They are humanely raised in spacious houses with plenty of natural light and ventilation, they're free to roam in large, fenced-in outdoor pens and they are never given antibiotics or fed animal fats or by-products.
What Do All The Definitions Mean?
The USDA recognizes free range when the animal has had access to the outdoors for part of the day with plenty of room to move around, so that it is not squashed between other animals. Important to note: Not all free-range chicken is organic, but all organic chicken is free range.
This label means at least 95% organic. It is used is when chickens have never been treated with antibiotics and when only certified organic feed grown without fertilizers or pesticides has been fed to the chickens. Vaccinations are permitted under this USDA heading.
Completely organic and made with all organic ingredients.
Contains (Or Made With) Organic Ingredients
This label is not condoned by the USDA (no government seal) but in order to legally sport the label, the product must contain at least 70% organic content. It is optional to include a list of the organic ingredients on label.
The product can have NO food coloring or artificial preservatives. However, it can have growth-enhancing chemicals. This label is usually found on raw food.
Raised Without Antibiotics
This is when the chicken has never received any medication that could be classified as an antibiotic. Other drugs to treat parasites or other health risks are permitted under this USDA heading.
This heading doesn't fall under the USDA's purview. A nonprofit organization called Humane Farm Animal Care, and the Center for Food Safety define this labeling when the standards have been met for handling, transporting, raising and slaughtering of any animal. It is not government approved and simply is a consumer attention-getter.
All Vegetarian Diet
Even though almost all poultry feed consists of corn and soybean, sometimes there are processed meat and poultry by-products. So, if the feed is free of these by-products, it can have this USDA label certifying it as all-vegetable.
This USDA label literally applies to all chickens since they are all raised on some kind of farm. It is a very deceiving label meant to garner consumer trust.
No Hormones Added
The FDA forbids that any animal be given hormones or any product to make it grow unnaturally. Since it is against the law, the label is redundant. The words look good on products and make for good advertising claims.
This generic label is not the same as "raised without antibiotics" which is listed above because it essentially means that there is no antibiotic left in the meat at the time it was processed. This is because the administration of antibiotics ceases shortly before an animal is slaughtered. This label is marketing ploy and is another example of using buzz words to look good on a product label. It is not condoned by the USDA.
To qualify for this labeling, the animal must feed only on grass. The animal must be raised unencumbered - i.e. must have ample run-around room in the outdoors in the natural sunshine. The label signifies that the meat is healthier and more lean than regularly bred animals.
This label means that some kind of broth or salty solution was injected into the chicken to give it more flavor and moistness. People who are watching their salt intake should take notice of the high "sodium" content on any enhanced product which usually exceeds the Recommended Daily Value. This is probably one of the most deceptive processing practices in the industry because it ups the weight of the product making the consumer think he/she is getting more for their money. They are - they're getting more salt.
Craig Watts' Farm Exposes Non-Humane Treatment
On May 4, 2010, the following video hit the airwaves.
After viewing both of these videos, I agreed with Craig Watts' reason for wanting to expose Perdue for lying about their label claims on their packages.
See what you think.
Warning: Graphic Content
May 2010 - Perdue Fired This Farmer For Not "Upgrading" To Dark Tunnel Chicken Sheds (Video May Be Disturbing To Some)
US Federal Regulations Regarding Livestock Living Conditions - This is the current living condition guidelines (12/9/2014) and makes for some interesting reading especially since you have just viewed several videos that speak to the contrary.
Labels and Marketing Guidelines - This is the current guidelines for organic labeling and what constitutes feed ingredients
Conditions At Tyson Chicken
Claims Against Perdue
A class action lawsuit has been filed alleging that Perdue is misleading the public by putting the words "humanely raised" on their chicken labels.
The claims are not new and neither are the numerous videos that back up their claims. The fact that the following video dates back to 2010 shows that now, four years later, still nothing is being done about the way chickens are bred. This two minute video details a tour by the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) showing the conditions they found.
Humane Society Video (2010)
I can tell you that all of the videos made a tremendous impression on me that will forever taint the way I think of chickens being raised.
It is clear that none of these people would never win Farmer of the Year for the conditions we viewed on their farms.
But were thet literally bound by contract to raise the chickens in this manner?
Or, in the case of Craig Watts, considering that he now stands to lose his contract with Perdue because of this video, do you think he should have done the humane thing for these chickens to treat them better and the hell with the contract details?
What did you think?
These content of these videos
Rachael O'Halloran, December 2014
© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran