In the Humane Society of the United State’s continuing fight against factory farms, one of its New Jersey members is pursuing a class action lawsuit against Perdue Farms, alleging that the poultry company is falsely advertising its chicken as “humanely raised.”

“Rather than implementing humane reforms, Perdue has simply slapped ‘humanely raised’ stickers on its factory farmed products, hoping consumers won’t know the difference,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of Animal Protection Litigation for the HSUS, in a news release.

The Humane Society says that in addition to “egregiously inhumane” slaughter, poultry industry guidelines permit numerous inhumane practices, including “painful handling and shackling of live birds; near continuous, dim lighting that prevents normal resting behavior and is linked to painful problems associated with fast growth; the transport and holding of birds on cramped trucks for long periods of time in extreme temperatures with no food or water.”

Humane reforms, according to the organization, would include methods that render chickens insensible to pain before they are killed.  Instead, the industry guidelines the Humane Society criticizes include shackling live birds upside down to slaughter them, then stunning them with electrified water and cutting their throats before the carcasses are moved through scalding water.  The Humane Society says some birds survive the process and may be conscious before drowning.

The organization acknowledges that the USDA interprets the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to exclude poultry, so there is no federal requirement to slaughter the chickens by methods that render them insensible to pain before they are killed.

But alternative, more humane methods of slaughtering, such as controlled-atmosphere killing or stunning systems using a mixture of gasses, are available, and the HSUS says poultry producers like Jaindl Farms and Mary’s Chickens have adopted or are considering these systems.

Two weeks ago, the Humane Society of the United States released a video taken by an undercover operative inside a large-scale egg producing facility run by the Cal-Maine company.  In that announcement, the organization drew connections between unsanitary conditions in egg-laying facilities and food safety risks, especially the possibility of Salmonella.

The organization makes no food safety claims in this legal action against a meat-producing company, but notes that consumers increasingly want to know that the animals whose food products they eat are humanely treated.  “Companies like Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for improved animal welfare for their own profit,” said Lovvorn in the prepared statement.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Perdue issued a statement from its corporate headquarters saying that its farmers’ handling of chickens exceeds industry standards, and that the Humane Society’s suit is based on “narrow, arbitrary standards” of humane treatment.

“Our chickens are raised cage-free on family farms in temperature-controlled housing with a continuous flow of fresh air, and they remain free to move about with constant access to food and water,” emailed Luis A. Luna, Perdue’s vice president for corporate communications, to the newspaper.