One of the nation’s biggest poultry companies, Perdue Chicken, is transforming the way that chickens are being raised for consumption and ushering in major changes.
So just what is Perdue Farms, the country’s fourth-largest chicken producer, doing differently than its competitors? And will Perdue chickens set the standard for the rest of the industry, impacting the way you shop at the grocery store? Let’s see what all the clucking is about and if the new Perdue chicken addresses some of the issues with conventional chicken products, such as the superbug in chicken that was recently discovered. (1)
The New Perdue Chicken?
It’s probably no surprise that conventional chickens are generally raised under horrifying conditions, similar to those factory-farmed for eggs. They’re packed in tiny coops with little to no space for roaming. These chicken houses are usually shrouded in darkness, making for sad, upset chickens who need natural light to understand when it’s time to be up and about and when it’s time for resting.
The chickens, which are raised for slaughter, are typically breeds that put on weight, allowing farmers to get them to market sooner. Unfortunately, these chickens pack on the pounds so quickly that their bodies haven’t had time to catch up. Their legs struggle to handle the weight, and these birds move less and tend to have more health problems.
For years, this has been the poultry industry standard. While animal activists and people concerned about animal welfare have petitioned for changes to chickens’ living conditions for years, the industry has been slow to respond. Consumers concerned about where their food comes from have the option of purchasing free-range chicken or organic chicken, but the reality is that, whether due to location or price, these types of chicken are not always as accessible to folks.
But Perdue chicken just might be the catalyst the industry needed. Perdue is taking major steps to revolutionize the way mass-produced chickens are raised and treated. The company is keeping birds in chicken houses with lots of natural light, allowing space for the chickens to roam, cluck and perch. They’re also looking at raising chicken breeds that don’t grow quite so quickly, and these chickens will be the ones at your local supermarket.
Why Is Perdue Changing Its Chickens?
None of this is accidental, and a lot of it dates back to 2014. See, if you’ve wondered “where do Perdue chickens come from?” the company doesn’t actually raise chickens of its own. Instead, it contracts with farmers throughout the country — Perdue chicken farms are located all over the U.S.
That year, one of Perdue’s farmers ended up collaborating with an animal welfare group that exposed the conditions the chickens were being raised in. The video that ensued ended up going viral, and the backlash was swift.
Though the company might deny it, the video and other farmers’ concerns have likely played a role in the reforms Perdue has introduced in the past few years.
In 2016, the company announced that it was eliminating all antibiotics in its chickens, similar to KFC, reserving them only for when chickens became ill. Nearly 95 percent of Perdue’s chickens are now sold under the “No antibiotics ever” label. Instead of traditional antibiotics, the company has started adding oregano and thyme to the chickens’ water. Both of these herbs are powerful, natural antibiotics that are packed with antioxidants and have antibacterial properties.
Improving the life of Perdue chickens was a natural next step after eliminating antibiotics. It’s difficult to eliminate powerful drugs from chicken coops without improving the conditions these chickens live in. But still, Perdue’s next steps, outlined in its Animal Care Summit, are fairly impressive. (2)
They include giving chickens more space and more light during the day and longer lights-off periods for rest; increasing the number of chicken houses with windows; raising and studying slower-growing chicken; and moving to controlled-atmosphere stunning. That last point is something that animal activists have wanted for a long time.
Currently, chickens are shackled onto a conveyor belt — alive — and then slaughtered. The new method, which is the standard in Europe and used by smaller companies here in the U.S., gases the birds first so they’re unconscious before they’re slaughtered.
All of these changes aren’t necessarily because Perdue suddenly cares more about its birds. They make financial sense. If you’re no longer giving birds medications, and they are living in cooped-up conditions, you’ll have a lot of sick birds that can’t be sold. Many of the changes are being driven by companies that Perdue supplies its chicken to, corporations that are feeling the heat from their own customers and are committed to purchasing chickens from producers who can safely say their chickens are leading better lives. Whatever the reason, it’s great to see some changes being introduced.
Will the Chicken Industry Change?
What does this mean for the chicken industry as a whole? Are all chickens going to be happy, healthy and good for you?
Maybe eventually, but let’s get a few things out of the way first.
While Perdue’s chicken changes are laudable, it’s important to note that there isn’t yet a timeline set to when the changes will all be completed. As I mentioned earlier, Perdue doesn’t raise its own chickens. It works with more than 2,000 farmers throughout the country. As such, it will take time to implement all of these changes across the board.
Additionally, if you’re concerned about GMOs, Perdue chicken isn’t the answer. Perdue’s conventionally grown chickens are fed a vegetarian diet made up mostly of corn and soybeans. Since nearly all of the inorganic soy and corn grown in the U.S. is from GMO seeds, unless it’s labeled organic or Non-GMO Project Certified, your Perdue chicken is not GMO-free. (3)
Nonetheless, Perdue’s changes are exciting. They may prompt changes at other companies in the industry. For instance, when Perdue announced it was getting rid of antibiotics, Tyson, one of the other major poultry producers, followed suit soon after. No company wants to be left behind, so change at Perdue may usher in changes elsewhere.
What Role Do We Play as Consumers?
It’s not all about the companies, though. As consumers, we hold a lot of power, and that comes with a lot of responsibility, too. Many of Perdue’s changes came because customers, whether they were individuals shopping at the grocery store or large corporations (who, in turn, were responding to their own customers) demanded it. The more consumers are outspoken about what they want and are willing to prove it with their purchasing power, the likelier it is that change happens.
Another unpleasant truth is that these changes in the poultry industry don’t come cheap. Chicken in America is as cheap as it is because the awful conditions that conventional chickens are raised in keep prices artificially low. If we want chicken that’s raised more humanely, we need to be prepared to put our money where our mouths are and follow a clean eating meal plan.
As a nation, our chicken eating habits might have to change, too. The quick-growing breeds became the go-to breeds because Americans wanted more breast meat (about 80 percent of the chicken sold in the U.S. is white meat), and these top-heavy birds produce more of it. Eating more dark meat (which is delicious!) means there is less pressure to grow unnaturally large birds.
Finally, although it might not be financially feasible for everyone, supporting local farmers by buying local, free-range chicken or opting for the organic options at the local supermarket tells big poultry companies like Perdue that we do care about where our food comes from.
Final Thoughts on Perdue Chicken
- Perdue, one of the country’s largest chicken producers, has introduced new changes to the way it raises its chickens.
- Some of the changes include chicken houses with more light, allowing chickens more access to roam and more windows. It’s also changing the way it slaughters its chickens, so the birds are unconscious before being killed.
- Perdue’s changes will be slowly rolled out to its more than 2,000 farmers, but there is no set timeline.
- Changes at Perdue have led the industry before. Most notably, when Perdue eliminated antibiotics in its chickens, other companies followd suit.
- As consumers, we have the power to demand that the industry make changes, but it means making personal changes of our own, too.
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