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