WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2014— An animal welfare group’s video depicting unhealthy conditions at a poultry farm operated by a contract grower for Perdue Farms claims to provide “an unprecedented look at a so-called humane American chicken factory farm.”
Perdue denied that the conditions at the North Carolina farm depicted in the video reflect its animal welfare standards.
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) released the video at the same time as it launched a “Better Chicken” digital campaign. The video and a related New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof contrasted Perdue Farms CEO Jim Perdue’s promises about humane company practices with the unhealthy conditions at the broiler operation run by contract grower Craig Watts.
Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president of field safety, quality and live production at Perdue Farms, said the company was kept in the dark about the identity of the farm depicted in the video until CIWF went public with it.
“Compassion in World Farming has been aware of issues on this particular farm and allowed it to continue, apparently to further their own agenda,” Stewart-Brown said in a letter to the New York Times.
“We can assure you that the conditions described in Craig Watts’ poultry house do not reflect Perdue’s standards for how our chickens are raised,” he said.
In an email, a CIWF spokesperson said Watts’ farm is the only Perdue farm the group visited. “No other farmers were willing to let us on to the farm,” CIWF said.
Leah Garcés, USA director of CIWF, said Watts’ willingness to reveal the conditions on his farm shows that “Perdue is merely pretending to address consumers’ demands for chickens raised drug free and humanely.”
Tom Super, spokesperson for the National Chicken Council, said, “All of the issues raised in this article and [CWIF] video are cases of mismanagement that could have been easily and humanely addressed to prevent bird suffering,”
“The conditions described in the New York Times article, and shown in the accompanying video, are not an accurate representation of the health and welfare of today’s broiler chickens,” Super continued. “Nor are they indicative of the many Perdue farms that I have personally visited.”
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The group is now launching a campaign with the following goals: “(To) stop marketing and verifying factory farmed chicken as natural or humane,” and “Improve living conditions and slow down growth rates for chickens.”
CIWF wants all poultry companies to use third-party auditing systems like Global Animal Partnership (GAP), which has a ladder system to indicate company animal welfare standards, ranging from 1 to 5+, with 5+ being the highest rating. A CIWF spokeswoman noted that Tyson Foods has a brand called Nature Raised that has a GAP level 2, which means its indoor production systems provide “environmental enrichment.”
While that level falls short of GAP level 3, which earns a company CIWF’s Good Chicken Award, the spokeswoman said “we are very encouraged to see Tyson on the ladder of continuous improvement.” A step 3 GAP level requires outdoor access.
Stewart-Brown said the independent farmers raising chickens for Perdue “are contractually and ethically obligated” to notify their Perdue “flock adviser” if any situation exists that would have an adverse effect on the health or well-being of their birds.
“We can and do provide additional resources or expertise should a farmer need help in raising our birds. We also provide an anonymous, toll-free hotline operated by an independent third-party, to provide a secure method to report any issues if a grower feels his or her concerns are not being addressed locally,” Stewart-Brown wrote in a letter to the New York Times.
Perdue said it has sent a team of poultry welfare experts to visit Watts’ farm and assess the condition of the current flock, “and to take whatever steps are need to assure the birds’ wellbeing now and in the future.”
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