SALISBURY — Perdue Farms is changing the way it raises chickens by sharpening its focus on the care of the birds.
The country’s fourth largest poultry producer has announced a series of precedent-setting reforms that will improve the lives of nearly 700 million birds it raises and slaughters each year.
Perdue is the first major poultry producer in the country to take such a progressive step forward. The commitment aligns Perdue with European poultry practices, and
Earlier this week, the Salisbury-based poultry giant released “2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care,” a four-part plan that addresses the increasing call for transparency in how chickens are cared for while being raised for food.
“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,” said Chairman Jim Perdue. “Transparency is very important to Perdue consumers, who are interested knowing how we raise, care for and harvest our chickens. Our vision is to be the most trusted name in food and agricultural products and animal care is a big part of that journey.”
The new plan will retrofit 200 chicken houses with windows by the end of the year in order to compare bird health and activity to enclosed houses that have been the common practice.
Additionally, the plan will focus on quality of life for the chickens and a more humane death as well when it comes time for slaughter. The company says it will improve living conditions by adding the aforementioned light and added enrichments like perches and haybales, while exploring more slow-growing practices for its breeds. Typical growth is often deemed so fast that critics say it causes immense pain to the chickens. Also, the plan will eventually switch all Perdue poultry houses to Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, which essentially puts the birds to sleep before slaughter and is deemed a much more humane practice.
Simply put, Perdue believes that by eventually allowing all of its birds to be exposed to sunlight and given the space to “express normal bird behaviors”, the chickens and the growing number of consumers who care about how those chickens lived will be happier.
Food manufactures, grocers and restaurants have all been moving towards a renewed focus on informing Americans about the food they consume, everything from sourcing the ingredients to providing information on a brand’s common practices surrounding the treatment of its animals.
This practice, coupled with the moves of some companies like Whole Foods Markets, which announced that it will replace carrying all fast-growing broiler chickens with the much more widely-considered humane practice of slower-growing breeds.
Perhaps this slow sea change in consumer demands helped prompt Perdue to become the first major poultry producer in the country to take such a progressive step forward. The commitment aligns Perdue with European poultry practices, which have long been called too costly and inefficient.
“Today marks a pivotal moment in making corporate animal welfare improvements the top-of-mind issue for the food industry,” said Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
“Perdue’s decision shows even more clearly that while the poultry industry needs much reform, change on this issue is gathering momentum.”
Jim Perdue said in a video statement that this move is just one of many examples of how the company has always led the charge towards innovation in the industry.
“We think that consumers and customer expect Perdue to be the leader in innovation whether it’s products or practices, and this has been going on since my dad was doing this in the 1970’s, and this is an extension of that leadership,” said Perdue. “It’s exciting because it’s something that is changing the way that we are doing business, and we have more than 2,000 farmers that we are communicating with and dealing with thousands of Perdue associates that are responsible for the care of our animals. It’s a big undertaking but it’s something that they are willing to do, and something that we will never go back on. It’s a journey that is moving forward.”
When Perdue announced that it would no longer use antibiotics in chicken production, many of its competitors followed suit, and some industry experts believe this progressive strategy will similarly change the entire industry.
Perdue increased its production by 9 percent last year and earned roughly $6 billion in sales.