Perdue Farms Wants Its Chickens To Live Better Lives

(3BL/JustMeans) Most chickens raised for meat in the US, called broiler chickens, live in horrendous conditions. All birds, including broiler chickens, are exempt from federal animal protection laws. Nearly all broiler chickens are housed in large sheds that contain 20,000 or more chickens. They are in very cramped quarters which leaves them unable to engage in normal and healthy chicken behaviors. Broiler chickens live in their own waste so ammonia irritates their eyes, throats and skin.

One leading chicken producerswants to make the lives of American chickens better. That company is Perdue Farms. Perdue Farms recently announced improvements to its animal welfare policy. The fourth largest chicken producer in the country, Perdue “has set itself up to become the leading poultry producer when it comes to animal welfare,” Josh Balk, Vice President, Farm Animal Protection, the Humane Society of the United States told JustMeans.

The company’s recent improvements include four core animal welfare issues. One of those issues is breed. Perdue is committing to studying and raising slower-growing chickens. “Most chickens are genetically manipulated to grow so big, so fast,” Balk said. They are often so injured when they fall on their backs that they can’t get up. Heart attacks are the most common fatality among them and “these chickens are just babies.” They are typically slaughtered around around six or seven weeks of age. Perdue is now breeding chickens to be stronger and healthier. “They no longer have a physiological cage around them,” he said of Perdue’s broiler chickens.

Two other core areas Perdue is committed to improving are space and living conditions. When it comes to space, the company is committed to giving chickens more space per bird. The advantage to more space is that “they are able to walk around more freely,” according to Balk. Perdue is also committed to giving chickens more light during the day and longer periods of lights-off for rest, plus increasing the amount of chicken houses with windows. More lights off time means chickens “aren’t forced to be awake all of the time,” he said.

The last of the core areas is slaughter, and it is a very key area. “Right now, nearly all chickens in the U.S. are slaughtered while awake,” Balk said. “It’s a terrifying process for animals who are fully awake. It’s also bad for workers to handle fully awake animals. Birds are pecking at you and hitting you with their wings.” It’s also dark when they slaughter the birds, and that is “a horrible situation for birds and workers.”

Perdue is working towards controlled atmosphere stunning. Once the chickens are on the conveyer belts, they are unconscious with this method. “This is a massive step to reduce suffering for chickens and workers.”

The current conditions that most broiler chickens in the US live under “doesn’t represent mainstream consumer sentiment,” as Balk said. A survey by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found that 77 percent of American consumers are concerned about the welfare of animals raised for food. And 67 percent said they would buy animal welfare-certified products, even it it meant a modest price increase.

What Perdue is doing will likely impact chicken buyers. As Balk explained, “For the big chicken buyers in the country, I think they are going to be more comfortable adopting the policy we are asking for.” And that will be good news for broiler chickens and the consumers who want to buy more humanely produced chicken meat.

Photo: Perdue Farms