Perdue Farms, the fourth largest poultry producer in the United States located in Salisbury, Maryland, is overhauling the way they treat their chickens in accordance with international animal rights standards and committing to helping 2,000 of its farmers foot the bill in making upgrades to their chicken houses.
The company’s announcement last week outlined the changes they plan to make in order to ensure that the animals they raise are healthy and happy before being sent to market.
Perdue raised an estimated 676 million chickens last year; and once the changes are in place over the course of 2016 and 2017, the chickens will have perches to sit on, more space in their barns to spread their wings, and windows to the outside so that they can experience sunlight.
“Poultry production as a whole has made great progress in keeping chickens healthy; however, we can improve by implementing policies that go beyond meeting chickens’ basic needs. We want to create an environment where chickens can express normal behaviors,” said Bruce Stewart-Brown, DVM, Perdue’s senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production.
Other changes include discontinuing certain kinds of genetically modified chickens that grow until their organs fail and their legs break under their own weight, stopping the use of antibiotics, and putting the chickens to sleep before slaughter. These changes are in keeping with the five freedoms of animals in human care established by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA).
“As we continue to learn about innovative and better ways to raise animals through our No Antibiotics Ever journey and our experience in raising organic chickens, we are adopting a four-part plan which will result in changing how we raise chickens,” Perdue chairman, Jim Perdue, said in a statement.
According to Politico, the company also plans to update its tournament system, offering points to growers who meet certain humane handling standards.
Titled “2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care,” the plan was developed with input from stakeholders such as farmers, academics and leaders of animal advocate organizations who were invited by Perdue to help shape this progressive animal care plan that sets new industry standards.
The poultry industry in the U.S. has resisted changes that many say would increase costs, but as customers become more discerning and demand ethical treatment of meat, Perdue Farms is raising the bar for their competition. Implementing the more humane practices might lead to a law to protect poultry, similar to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for other livestock.
Other companies are also joining the push for more humane practices in the production of poultry products. Last year, Nestle announced that the eggs used in all of their products will be cage-free starting in 2020, while McDonald’s will start serving substantially antibiotic-free chicken in its 14,000 U.S. locations. Several fast food chains have also pledged to make the switch to cage-free eggs in the coming years.
“We are only just getting started. Our animal care plan is not a static document – it is an ongoing journey focused on learning, listening and responding to further advance how we care for animals as well as how we will continue to strengthen our relationship with the farmers who raise our chickens,” said Perdue.