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Consumer Marketing Win: Ending ‘Humanewashing’

Opinion

Earlier this year, Cassandra White of Clarkston, GA, gathered more than 165,000 signatures for a Change.org petition asking Kroger to stop misleading customers. Kroger’s Simple Truth Natural Chicken bore the words “raised in a humane environment.”

White said, “When I go to the grocery store, I read the labels carefully because I want to know that what I am buying to feed my family is something I can trust.” She found out that although the chicken was marked as “humane,” the label had little meaning in terms of animal welfare. When she called Kroger to ask what the label meant, the store replied, “[The chickens] live on the floor of a barn or poultry house” with no further details.

Organizations, such as Compassion in World Farming raising this issue through its Better Chicken Initiative, are challenging supermarkets to meet consumers’ demand for better treatment of chickens. Recently, a major announcement was made that will make shopping a little clearer for consumers like Cassandra, who are seeking humane choices.

Perdue, the third-largest chicken company in the country, and Kroger, the largest grocer in the country, recently settled class-action lawsuits filed separately by The Humane Society for the United States and Compassion Over Killing. The two companies agreed to remove the word “humane” in reference to how their chickens are raised for their Harvestland (Perdue) and Simple Truth (Kroger) brands.

While the two major companies were forced to remove the term “humane” from packaging, Perdue and Kroger refused to admit any wrongdoing. Perdue went as far as to say that the company “rejects the plaintiffs’ allegations and maintains that its labels are not misleading in any way.” Kroger made a statement to the same effect. In a statement to Reuters Gil Phipps, Kroger’s vice president of corporate brands said, “We stand by our assertion that the ‘raised in a humane environment’ claim on our Simple Truth chicken label is accurate.”

If Kroger and Perdue really believed that, then why did they both settle? Perhaps they didn’t think they could win in a court of law.

Perdue bases its humane claim on the National Chicken Council’s (NCC) Animal Welfare Guidelines. Perdue, along with 95 percent of the chicken industry, is a member of this trade association for the industry. Perdue’s claim is backed by USDA through its Process Verified Program. These guidelines allow for 30,000 birds to be given only two-thirds of a square foot each in a barren, dimly lit, totally enclosed warehouse. The birds have no natural light or fresh air. They sit on a bed of litter containing the feces of these 30,000 chickens, which is not changed once during their whole lives, and likely was not changed from the previous flock either. The guidelines do not even begin to address the fact that chickens today are made to grow so large so fast that they can hardly stand on their own two legs at six weeks, when they are ready for slaughter. The guidelines are nothing more than a recommendation for factory farming.

Millions of Americans want farm animals to be treated better. A public opinion survey conducted by Edge Research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found that more than 80 percent of respondents felt it’s important that the chicken they eat is humanely raised. Yet fewer than one-third of the respondents trust the companies that make chicken products to treat their chickens in a humane manner. More than 75 percent of chicken consumers said they would like more humanely raised chicken options at their local grocery stores.

Another survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies found that 58 percent of consumers would spend an additional 10 percent or more for meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy products labeled “humanely raised.” Putting these surveys together, Animal Welfare Institute concluded in their “Humanewashed” report that “humane claims are ripe for exploitation by companies attempting to lure in conscientious consumers seeking an alternative to products from factory farmed animals.”

These recent settlements mark a very clear victory for consumers demanding humane treatment of farm animals and transparent labeling. No one would walk into one of these dimly lit, overcrowded chicken warehouses, the air choked with ammonia and dust, and think, “Yes, this is humane.” No matter how the industry spins it, there is nothing humane about factory farming. Rest assured that consumers like Cassandra White will continue to read the labels. And animal welfare groups like Compassion in World Farming, through its Better Chicken Initiative, will continue to challenge the industry — and USDA — to stop humanewashing and start creating meaningful standards that match up to the public’s expectations.

© Food Safety News
  • Eric Gingerich

    From what I have seen, all broiler chickens raised in houses are essentially reared in the same manner; conventional, organic, free range, etc. They all are raised in a house where the litter is not changed during their lifetime. Most use the litter from the previous flock, the built-up litter system, to provide beneficial bacteria from the used litter. Pastured poultry would be different and is apparently what Cassandra White thinks she wants. She is able to buy pastured broilers at a very high cost if she wants, probably double or triple the cost of conventional broilers. Also, nearly all broiler producers use the same breeds of broilers in their production systems. They all have been bred to grow fast efficiently to the benefit of both the producer and the consumer. These chickens are able to walk normally in all systems if managed properly.

  • Cheryl Evans

    Chickens are raised for the sole purpose of slaughter. Humane treatment is fine to an extent. The industries look at it as a product not a live breathing being. I don’t think we need to get too far over the line on this. These animals are bred for our consumption and at the rate of our consumption there is no way we can personally cater to a chicken HELLO!! It’s just a chicken!!
    I wish these people would put this much energy towards the hungry and homeless people in this country! It’s sad they worry about a fricken’ animal more than they do a person. I Love animals especially dogs and horses but God gave us certain animals to eat and unless you want to rause and slaughter your own meat then settle to the fact that this is just the way it is.

    • Regina Drake

      your attitude and mentality is why I will ALWAYS care about animals MORE than fricken’ people. Apparently you didn’t really read your Holy book….we are the CARE takers of animals.

    • Phil Nunez

      There are countries where they also eat dogs and horses. In those countries they would tell you also HELLO, it’s just a dog (horse), it’s just an animal you can eat. Are you okay with that too or is that somehow different because in our (western) culture dogs and horses are considered pets? It always amazes me when people make excuses for certain animals but not others. Why not? That’s why I like the way people in East Asia look at this whole issue.

    • CommonSense

      Do not bring God into this–Anyone who’s ever seen or even researched video of factory farms, animal cruelty, and the like would tell you that there’s nothing “Godly” about a living creature spending it’s entire life laying in its own waste whilst being trampled to death due to severely overcrowded living conditions. Baby chicks are ground up alive, mostly male chicks as they seem to serve no purpose to the Big Money industry that’s in charge of them. Why don’t you seem out your own evidence of you have such a hard time believing these atrocities to be true? Also, do you work tirelessly to help any cause? You mention you wish people to save the homeless population, but what do you do to be a part of this? Furthermore, it could be argued that as humans we have the ability to speak up for ourselves and to help ourselves. Animals do not have these privileges, they depend on us to advocate for them. And at the end of the day, we humans are animals too. We just happen to speak a worded language, it’s scientifically proven that most other animal species also have their own languages, they’re just not using the words that we know. So instead of being so cruel and apathetic to other animal species, how about educating yourself on their intelligence, their emotions, the FACT that most species are known to feel pain just as we do, the FACT that most species are proven to form connections and familial bonds the way we do. Try to muster up some empathy for these animals when they’re newborn young are stripped away from them and slaughtered before their very eyes. How would you feel? I know I sure hope to NEVER have to feel that kind of pain, nor have any of the many atrocities committed against me that are committed against these animals. Google “factory farming” or “animal cruelty” and commit one solid hour of your life to really see for yourself and understand how bad things are out there. Until then, if you aren’t going to help the cause, stay out of the way. Have a wonderful day. Take care.

      • Kristin Milner

        There’s nothing I can add to this brilliant post. Perfectly said.

    • JCraig66

      well i will agree…the industry looks at the animal as a commodity. but they are presenting this product as being something it is not…hence the justification for a 50% markup. So really makes no difference where these folks/groups crossed some imaginary line..the issue is the labeling is misleading or better yet deceitful in order to gouge the consumer who thinks they are actually purchasing something different and better.
      ever stopped to think why Perdue doesn’t put there name anywhere on the Harvestland brand???

    • Andrea S

      ”The question is
      not, can they reason? Nor, can they
      talk? But, can they suffer?” Jeremy Bentham, philosopher, 1748-1832.

      Social responsibility, ecological preservation and
      evolution of consciousness are the challenges of this age. It is evident that
      we have not yet fully evolved as a society when the unconscionable practices,
      cruelty and the inhumane suffering of ALL afflicted animals (no matter WHAT the
      reason), is still a reality in the 21st century.

    • Ryan Hahn

      In our country, our god gave us the right to eat dogs and cats. What’s the freaking difference?

    • Mark Caponigro

      Please don’t insult God by blaming Him for your own cruel carnivorous practices. If you choose to look to the Bible for moral direction, you should note that God’s original intention was that human beings and other animals eat only foods of plant origin (Genesis 1.29f.); it was only after the Flood, when God was persuaded that human beings are inevitably hideously disappointing, that He puts dread of humanity into the hearts of animals, and allows human beings to kill them, provided the sacred part of them, their life (= blood) is removed first from the carcasses (Genesis 9.2-4). So any follower of a biblical religion with a better-than-average love of God and desire to be perfect should put aside all carnivorous practices as much as poossible, and strive to become vegan.

    • Stewardship is the key word

      Ms. Evans, since you’re so bent on bringing God into the discussion, you should know a thing or two about what God commands in regards to animal stewardship. Maybe you should start by learning what stewardship means in a Scriptural context. Furthermore, God never calls man to just “accept” injustice in any form. Thus, for you to just say, “God gave us certain animals to eat…” and one should just “settle to the fact that this is just the way it is,” is a slap in the face of God’s standards.

  • mark

    Dear Ms. Garces,

    “They sit on a bed of litter containing the feces of these 30,000 chickens, which is not changed once during their whole lives, and likely was not changed from the previous flock either.”
    Can you provide any data that this is true or is this just the opinion of you and your group?

    “If Kroger and Perdue really believed that, then why did they both settle? Perhaps they didn’t think they could win in a court of law.”
    Many, many corporations settle out of court because long drawn out court cases are more expensive than settling.
    The fact is Ms. Garces, you provide no data that animals are being mistreated. Cassandra White, according to your article, also did not provide any data of animal mistreatment.

    • JCraig66

      uh…you obviously know very little about commercial chicken husbandry…standard practice to reuse bedding for many flocks…there is no way a farmer could afford replace the bedding every flock…
      this trial has been going on for over 4 years…it is already drawn out…this settlement is one of those last act of a desperate man deals…kinda like when Taco Bell is all that is open and you are very hungry.

    • MaryFinelli

      From The Poultry Site:

      “Growers are finding it difficult or even impossible to do a complete clean-out annually.”

      “Birds grown on built-up litter are exposed to an increased number of potentially harmful microorganisms that may affect their health and performance without showing symptoms of illness or mortality.”

      http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/2704/managing-litter-moisture-in-broiler-houses-with-builtup-litter

      “Depending on the size of bird produced, five to seven flocks per year may be grown per house with flock sizes ranging between 22,000 and 26,000.”

      Possibly even more now, considering that this is from 2004:

      http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/147/contract-broiler-production-questions-and-answers

      Anyone with a modicum of sense and compassion can see that the vast majority of chickens and other farmed animals are raised in horrendously cruel and unsanitary conditions that are also a hazard to human health and to the environment at large.

  • Kassy

    Progress towards transparency in food labeling and in our food system!

  • Cassandra White

    I was not involved in the Compassion Over Killing lawsuit, but I was able to obtain a copy of their complaint, which seemed to be based on strong evidence that was not contested by Kroger. Here are a few of the details: http://cok.net/simpletruth/ I ultimately felt that Kroger’s Simple Truth labeling was misleading. I shop there often and was indeed hoping that this line of products was offering something different and at a lower price, but it seemed that their chickens are raised no differently than those of most commercial producers. I don’t think caring about honesty in labeling and animal welfare has to be seen as separate or taking away from concerns for social and environmental justice. My own work and research focuses on social and health inequities.

  • Andrea

    Great article. It really bothers me that the industry is taking advantage of the market for “humane meat” and misleading consumers who care about the treatment of the animals they eat. If it truly is impossible to “humanely” raise chickens in industrial agriculture, then urging honestly in labeling is the best way to teach consumers. For those who care about the treatment of animals, another options is to not eat them altogether. In 2014 there are plenty of other protein-packed, incredibly healthy, cruelty-free and feces-free foods to eat 🙂 Thank you for spreading this important message on food labeling!

  • Eric Gingerich

    The BBC just put out a good article on where your chicken comes from. Go to their website – http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29219843

  • Kelly

    I for one am a vegetarian, but my daughter and husband are not. I purchase purdue boneless chicken because it says cage free and hormone/steriod free. Can we trust anything we read on labels anymore?

    • KarenCall

      http://www.humanemyth.org has your answer: which is no, you can’t trust the labels “cage free”, “free range”, “organic”…what are you trusting about it?

  • Laura Del Gaudio

    It would not kill me to eat a smaller healthier more humanly treated chicken.actually, I prefer it. Mr. Perdue you appear mentally and spiritually ill.There is help for that.

  • cgins

    Research shows that the American public rejects animal cruelty and does not trust companies. Yet industrialized farming is inherently cruel and and businesses are eager to exploit consumer demand, even by being dishonest. People should vote their values with their wallets by choosing products with independently verified certifications or, better yet, plant-based alternatives. With products such as Beyond Meat now widely available, as well as delicious natural sources of protein such as beans and lentils, there is no need to torment, kill and eat chickens.

  • Alli Clute

    Thank you for shedding light on this! Consumers want to know where their food comes from and 95% of consumers care about how animals are treated. Discovering this type of information a few years ago sure did change my purchasing behavior!

  • Mark Caponigro

    This shining the light on “humanewashing” is indeed a great step forward (not a final victory, of course — there are many of us after all who feel that “humane meat” is an oxymoron, i.e. that even if an animal is raised in healthful, comfortable conditions, and at the end of a decently long life is slaughtered in a Temple-Grandin-perfect way, there is still an unavoidable element of inhumane exploitation and hubris in that decision to kill).

    As for “No one would walk into one of these … warehouses … and think, ‘Yes, this is humane'”: Right, if by “no one” we mean “no normal person.” But I don’t think the Perdue spokespersons are being dishonest when they insist their chickens are treated humanely. Their problem is, they have indulged in chicken abuse for so long, and it has become such a fundamental and essential part of their identity, that they don’t know any better.

    This is why we must have total transparency in the way chickens are raised, both the egg-laying kind and the meat-producing kind; and the same for other animals whose products are marketed and consumed (though of course chickens are the species who are by far abused the most, in terms of numbers of individuals killed). We must have transparency; we must have standards of humane treatment (including not only the matter of health but also the matter of comfort) devised by disinterested veterinarians and ethologists from outside the industry and its funding; and we must have enforcement of those standards.

    But I doubt any of that will happen any time soon, in an age when the meat industry is coddled by politicians, and under-cover investigations are criminalized.

  • Ty Savoy
  • Alexis Tuckfield

    I was not engaged in the Sympathy Over Eliminating court action, but I was able to acquire a duplicate of their issue, which seemed to be depending on powerful proof that was not competitive by Kroger. Here are a few of the details: http://cok.net/simpletruth/ I eventually experienced that Kroger’s Easy Fact marking was deceiving. I store there often and was indeed expecting that this range of items was providing something different and at a discounted, but it seemed that their poultry are elevated no in a different way than those of most professional manufacturers. I don’t think looking after about loyalty in marking and creature well being has to be seen individual or getting away from issues for public and ecological rights. My own perform and analysis concentrates on public and wellness inequities.

    David J Patton MD Inc