Last month, something unprecedented happened that rocked the chicken industry’s world. Perdue contract farmer Craig Watts decided he’d had enough. Together with my organization, Compassion in World Farming, he released a video that gave the public a unique view into the secretive world of the chicken industry. He revealed what the National Chicken Council (NCC), USDA, and Perdue mean by “humanely raised” and “cage-free”: 30,000 chickens stuffed into a windowless warehouse, on feces-ridden litter, made to grow so big so quickly that they can hardly stand on their own two legs. Consumers were outraged. More than half a million people viewed the video in the first 24 hours alone on YouTube. Media coverage was widespread, led by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s hard-hitting piece. Perdue’s Facebook page was inundated with fuming customers who felt betrayed. Watts revealed a truth that the chicken industry, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, refuses to acknowledge. Americans don’t want factory-farmed chickens. And they certainly don’t want USDA to put a stamp on it calling it humane and cage-free. Hours after the release, Perdue turned up at Watts’ farm to conduct a surprise animal-welfare audit, the first he had ever received in his 22 years of raising chickens. Perdue handed CIWF’s video over to the “Center for Food Integrity’s” panel of industry spokespeople to review the footage. CFI’s CEO Charlie Arnot has made clear the purpose of the “review panel.”  He stated, “This program creates an opportunity for animal agriculture to re-frame the public conversation related to undercover video investigations.” Predictably, CFI’s “re-framing” was to blame Watts for poor management. Industry press regurgitated the panel’s review. Feedstuffs, a farming newspaper, stated that the “video misrepresents the broiler industry” and grasped at straws, trying to blame selective editing of the film and poor management. They failed to check Watts’ history and records. Not only are the conditions of his farm within industry norms, but Watts has been awarded by Perdue as a top producer. But the public was not to be fooled again. Consumer Rickie Colonna posted this on Perdue’s Facebook page: “Nice retaliation against a farmer who wants his unhealthy chickens to see the light of day. I will never buy Perdue again.“ In the weeks that followed, Watts had six visits in total from Perdue. More than 22,000 emails were sent by consumers to supermarkets across the country asking for better treatment of chickens. Letters of encouragement poured into CIWF’s office, thanking Watts for his efforts and hoping other farmers might do the same. With the eyes of the media on Perdue and Watts receiving pro bono legal counsel from the Government Accountability Project, his contract with Perdue has been kept intact — so far. Watts risked everything to tell this story. He risked his friendships with his neighbors, his livelihood and his future for his family. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Instead of condemning Watts, the industry could learn from his courage. The chicken industry is presented with two options. One is to continue to blame “farm management” as the culprit every time a video comes out revealing the cruel realities of factory farming. This approach clearly backfired in this situation. Trying to silence farmers who question the status quo is not an effective way to win Americans’ trust. The other is to listen to what consumers, and Watts, are saying. Go beyond the NCCs anemic guidelines, beyond keeping animals in windowless, barren, packed warehouses, on feces-ridden litter, with genetics that result in crippled, inactive birds. If the industry doesn’t take its head out of the sand soon, the chasm between it and its customers will only continue to grow.

  • Justine Cantrell

    We are gaining so much knowledge thanks to brave people doing what’s right and blowing the cover off the animal industry! The real solution to ending all the cruelty is going vegan!!

    • R Stuart

      I really believe that the ultimate agenda of this “movement” is to stop consuming animal protein and using the guise of animal welfare to achieve their agenda.

      • Anti-protein

        Not “protein”, but body parts, of animals cut into pieces, after being tortured, and then horribly killed.
        “Thou shalt not kill” is the agenda.
        Go gnaw on some protein now, you hear.

      • MellowCat

        Keep telling yourself that. The meat industry and the politicians protecting it are creating more vegans than PETA is.

      • Lynn Todd

        I agree, its sad that many do not know the real ways of the true farmer and how hard we work so that everyone else can exploit us to continue to eat meat and drink milk!

        To comment on Justine Cantrell’s remark – Cut the throats of male calves (called ‘Bulls’ for those of you that are obviously ignorant) kept in a dark box? Really, and where did you learn of this . . . via some PETA video full of pathetic propaganda to get you to believe this? Ask a REAL dairy farmer what they do with their bull calves instead of believe what you hear.

        I find it very sad, when time wasted bashing the farmers could be better spent finding ways looking for a common ground for the ‘big companies’ that treat our animals inhumanely and feed our people full of poisons to put an end to their false advertising and treat the livestock humanely before slaughter age.

    • R Stuart

      I wish people like this commentator really knew the animal industry. Having grown up on a dairy farm in Louisiana, I deeply respect the people that are called to remain in animal agriculture and produce animal protein that is safe, nutritious, and doing it as economically as possible. If you removed the cover of a cow-calf producer, you would find someone helping a first-calf heifer deliver her calf, or breaking ice on water troughs when the temperature is below freezing. People who are for free-ranging animals forget that the environmental temperature is not a constant 72 degrees. Please stop bashing people in animal agriculture.

    • Joe Blow

      Ummm yeah…going vegan is fine if that’s what you want to do, but it isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, in America, we have the luxury of choices and options. Have fun with your vegan diet while I go gnaw on some inhumanely caged chicken, corn fed beef, or nitrate bacon products. Mmmm..

      • MellowCat

        Please come up with a new way to try to be provocative. The “mmmm meat” line being inserted into animal welfare discussions is so overused and tired. I know you all think it is hilarious, but even boys in Junior High get bored with a Whoopie Cushion after using it a gazillion times.

      • Justine Cantrell

        Thankfully, in America, while I’m off having fun with my vegan diet, you have the luxury of giving your money to the pharmaceutical companies for the medication you will need to take because of the choice you made to go gnaw on some inhumanely caged chicken, corn fed beef, or nitrate bacon products. Then, you can wash your pill down with a glass of manure laden water caused by runoff from a nearby factory farm. Cruelty, bad health, and pollution doesn’t really ring a bell like Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, but since that’s the option you’ve decided to take ummm yeah…that’s fine if that’s what you want to do, but it isn’t for everyone.

  • Avin Deen

    More people should start keeping chickens as pets; they make as good a pet as dogs and cats and have lesser ecological footprint. This will help people appreciate chickens better and reduce the dependency on the chicken industry.

    • R Stuart

      How many do you have and what are their names?

    • Joe Blow

      Yes, in my condo with no land let me keep chickens. I bet anyone with an apartment or small condo agrees. We don’t need the industry…nope.

  • jeff hunt

    this is all fine and dandy until the consumer starts seeing $9-10/lbs or higher price point in the stores. this is as absurd as the new shell egg regulations in California requiring extra space for the laying hens. ask the average joe how much more he can afford to pay for these items
    amazing the amount of zealots trying to change every aspect of the greatest country in the world, if normal citizens are not outraged they are not paying attention

    • Rosemary

      Sad. The USA along with most of the western world does not value food, or the animals that provide it. Eat less, eat better – your health both physical and mental will improve.

  • F. T. Jones

    The present system of raising chickens is not perfect and needs improvement, However,I see no proposal for improvement here. What I see instead is an effort to destroy the present system. If Compassion for World Farming has a proposal for how to better raise chickens, why not propose those methods in very specific terms?

    • Rosemary

      The present system needs destroying. Look at Compassion’s website http://www.ciwf.org you will find plenty about the way chickens should be raised and slaughtered.

      • R Stuart

        Rosemary, How many chickens do you harvest each year on your property? If you do harvest chickens, do you produce enough to sell or donate to your neighbors that do not grow chickens?

        • Lynn Todd

          I agree, we used to raise these very same types of chickens before I moved to Missouri (where Tyson has the corner marketed on ‘Vantress’ chickens), where I can no longer buy this type of fast growing meat bird. We raised 100 of them twice each year in open buildings where they were free to go outside. They were fed a low protein and higher fat diet so that their fast growth wouldn’t exceed what their legs could handle with the fast heavy growth of their body weight. This curbed the issue with them not being able to get up and move about, along with allowing them exercise to strengthen their thighs to allow for the quick weight gain.

          As with any farm animals, there are going to be losses, we cannot control what the hatcheries send us in the form of chicks, so even we had a loss or two out of every 100 chicks, this was why the hatcheries would always send an extra chick for every 25 ordered.

          I had my customer base for these farm-raised meats, and never did my customers have a complaint of them being raised inhumanely by being allowed outdoors for sunshine (and shaded outdoor structures) and having clean bedding inside the shelters to return to when the animal felt the need to. We sold as many of these ‘farm raised’ animals that we could possibly raise, because they were indeed humanely raised and cared for, including the hogs that we raised for food. We didn’t feed our animals by-products and any other food additives; we fed our farm raised animals the grain that we raised on our farm as well and kept in the grain bank or silo’s so that we knew what we were feeding our animals. Every year I gave turkeys, geese and chickens to those in need so that they could also have and enjoy holiday dinners. Sure, in the name of profit, I could have been like those in the big industries and failed to show an ounce of humanity (either to the animal or to humans) in the name of greed, however, I chose not to because I was able to do something I not only enjoyed, but also believed in raising a better food product.

          Even I am outraged at these ‘chicken and turkey’ farms that raise these poor birds inside without fresh air, clean litter and sunshine. Because I know that they can be raised differently without extra cost (or loss of profits) and be treated humanely.

          The point being is that these big companies can get away with lying to the consumer about how their products are being raised humanely and the public believes it until they see it for themselves, then become outraged.

          Can they raise them more humanely? Absolutely, I did it . . . and as to the cost to my clients? They paid ten cents more per pound than the grocery store, that was where we kept our pricing levels at. With all the extra work and expense to keep these animals happy and healthy to slaughter age, I can tell you that the pay sure wasn’t what kept us in it, it was the principle of being able to market a quality product for consumption to our friends, family and customers without the cost of inhumane treatment and food additives.

      • Joe Blow

        No thanks…I like it the way it is. Chickens are food. Mmm….

  • Marge Mullen

    I also have stopped buying Purdue products. Frank is still promoting his all “vegan diet” of corn and soy which just happen to be GMO and of course his famous line of ” All Natural.”

    • R Stuart

      I saw in an earlier comment that you don’t eat Tyson either. What is wrong with GMO grains and oil seeds? They have been fed to cattle, swine, and poultry since 1994 with no problems- zero, zilch, zip, nil, nought, but we still have a sub-population that does not believe real science.

      • MN Born

        I am uncomfortable with GMO because they often contaminate non-GMO varieties and minimize diversity. It’s not that GMO doesn’t have a place in our world, but it is a technology to wielded with care, in my opinion. This is my Jurassic Park allusion, we get so worried about whether we could, we didn’t stop to think if we should. Careful consideration should be given for such a dynamic ecosystem which thrives with biodiversity!

        • R Stuart

          Remember Jurassic Park was a movie, not real life.

          • MN Born

            Ah, but lessons are everywhere. Keep in mind, Gene Roddenberry coined many terms adopted by scientists. Hollywood has a way! Creativity should never be denied!!

      • Marge Mullen

        To claim that GMOs are perfectly safe is equivalent to saying that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides—systemically laced at ever-higher levels into
        GMO-tainted human food and animal feed—are perfectly safe. And to make matters worse, hundreds of millions of pounds of Monsanto’s Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, are now routinely sprayed on 160 different crops, just before harvest, including wheat, potatoes, oats, canola, flax, peas and dried beans. In other words, just about every non-organic item in your supermarket, or every item on your restaurant menu (bread, potatoes, meat, milk) is now tainted with Roundup.

        • R Stuart

          NOT TRUE. Your comment is so misinformed.

  • heavyhanded

    Headline says it all. Good opinion piece.

  • Joe Blow

    I know I’m in the minority, but I honestly don’t care how my chickens are raised. They are food. I’ve been to plenty of chicken “farms” and slaughterhouses as well in my experience. Chicken is still one of my favorite foods.

    Get ready consumers…your chicken prices will double.

    • steven75

      You’re missing the point here. When the label on a package promises one thing and delivers another, that’s a problem.

    • Marion Kopp

      I am willing to pay. I definitely do not want my food to be tortured before I eat it

    • Joe Blow, you are a heartless ARSEHOLE. Learn some compassion!

  • LouisaD

    Standard farm practices include: cutting off tails, “clipping” the teeth, and castrating pigs, all with no anesthetic; tearing baby calves away from their mothers within 24-48 hours after birth so that humans can take the mother’s estrogen-laden milk, and then keeping the babies isolated in tiny crates; putting male chicks born to egg-laying hens into grinders where they are ground up alive; cutting the beaks off hens with no anesthetic; the list goes on and on. My only hope is that when the public realizes there’s no such as thing as “humanely-raised” farm animals, they will find that their only choice will be to stop eating them.

    • R Stuart

      How sad of a comment. Did you notice that no farmer purposely aborts an unborn animal. If people treated people as well as we treat our animals, our world would be a better place.

      • Lynn Todd

        Absolutely, thank you! Not all of us that farm, or are contracted to farm are ruthless evil people that some here seem to portray us as. An attack against the big companies that some of us have allowed to control our lives through ‘contract farming’ is definitely okay, but to attack the farmers themselves is outrageous. Think about this the next time you pull that forkful of salad or chicken into your mouths.

    • Lynn Todd

      I worked on a dairy farm for a few years, and the so-called ‘estrogen’ laden milk (which is laden with much needed antibodies) is taken for the benefit of the calf, not for the benefit of humans, as that milk is NEVER milked into the bulk tank. Please, think and know your facts before you speak.

  • Kitsy Hahn

    Purdue “crows” that they “cut back” on the antibiotics in their chickens. So, big deal, they finally Got With the Program. In 2011 they acquired Coleman Natural Foods, which includes their organic chicken. Because of its connection with Purdue, one has to wonder if the Coleman organic chicken is truly raised humanely. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/03/perdue-foods-antibiotics-human-antibiotics-food-safety/15013253/

    • R Stuart

      Growing chickens economically so that the vast majority of our population can afford to purchase the processed birds requires that the husbandry practices utilized in our industry be practiced. A simple analogy for working parents with young children is child-care facilities. How dare they drop their children off at a facility that may have very few minimum-waged workers for so many children. Why don’t they hire an “au pair” that can offer individualized attention in the child’s home. I can’t believe people treat their children in such a fashion. Most of the people in animal agriculture would not do that. They care for their children at home and don’t depend on others to nurture and provide for them.

      • MN Born

        As the daughter of farmers, I can see your point and certainly respect your opinion. I still think more dialogue is needed. Industry standards are not the only way of doing things. There are a lot of changes that can happen, and if we don’t question the status quo – then we must just accept working to pay daycare providers. Or paying through the nose in healthcare because we didn’t ask the industry to do something different. Hanging farmers out alone or painting them as villains won’t get us anywhere!

    • Kitsy Hahn

      Major OOPS, I misspelled Perdue! Mercury is retrograde and all that, but could there have been another reason? *semi-blushing*

  • MN Born

    I think the point here is that consumers are paying for something, a label of chickens being humanely raised, and are getting little more than a meaningless label! Part of coming up with creative solutions is first defining and assessing the problem. And a solution that I’d love to see (and probably never will) is one where healthy food is provided for people without sky high prices that reflect corporate structures instead of sustainable capitalism. Sustainable business practices should mean that you aren’t slowly killing your consumer…

    • Joe Blow

      Well…we are all slowly dying from one thing or another, what’s your point? Thank God you have the ability to CHOOSE your food to intake as a consumer. If you really cared about your health that much you would make the wise food choices you can with what is currently out there. There is a myriad of food choices for you.

      • MN Born

        I don’t disagree that there are a myriad of food choices. I’m certainly grateful there are. And I believe that when there is honesty and transparency in industry, everyone wins. Cheer up – we can create positive change if we work together!

  • ethanspapa

    Wait til you see what happens at thanksgiving The feces is even higher.

    • R Stuart

      You still have time. Buy a poult and start feeding it grain and soybean meal that you grow in your backyard and don’t forget the minerals and vitamins. After 16 to 18 weeks, you can harvest the bird and cook it for your Thanksgiving meal. Why depend on those mean ole factory farmers.

  • kent

    free the chickens!!!!

  • R Stuart

    This article is another example of animal rightists attempting to push their agenda to a world that needs to be fed. Can Africa feed itself? That continent has free-ranging, organic, and natural fed animals, yet the people are starving. To accuse modern animal agriculture for being mean, money-hungry, non-caring is in itself cruel. If free-range feeding and harvesting of animals was so glamorous, how many people, like Ms. Garces, actually grow their own food. I am sure that way of life would definitely interfere with vacations and holidays. I know, because I was born and reared on a farm in Louisiana. I admire the segment of our society that plow the fields, plant the GMO seed to produce grains and plant proteins to feed a world that in the case of the author are not appreciative of what the people making a living in agriculture are doing for a hungry world. Oh, by the way, ostriches do not put their head in the sand. When it appears that they are doing that, they are actually turning eggs so that the eggs will be uniformly heated prior to hatching. Please stop demonizing the 2% of our population that is producing food for ungrateful, uneducated, and misguided people who want to think that farmers are like ostriches. So sad!

  • R Stuart

    This article is another example of animal rightists attempting to push their agenda to a world that needs to be fed. Can Africa feed itself? That continent has free-ranging, organic, and natural fed animals, yet the people are starving. To accuse modern animal agriculture for being mean, money-hungry, non-caring is in itself cruel. If free-range feeding and harvesting of animals was so glamorous, how many people, like Ms. Garces, actually grow their own food. I am sure that way of life would definitely interfere with vacations and holidays. I know, because I was born and reared on a farm in Louisiana. I admire the segment of our society that plow the fields, plant the GMO seed to produce grains and plant proteins to feed a world that in the case of the author are not appreciative of what the people making a living in agriculture are doing for a hungry world. Oh, by the way, ostriches do not put their head in the sand. When it appears that they are doing that, they are actually turning eggs so that the eggs will be uniformly heated prior to hatching. Please stop demonizing the 2% of our population that is producing food for ungrateful, uneducated, and misguided people who want to think that farmers are like ostriches. So sad!

  • Jackie

    Joe Blow … I respect that you embrace your sociopathic ideals. You know that your choices directly cause pain, suffering, terror … and simply don’t care, infact, it’s almost sounds like you enjoy it. You are exactly the kind of heartless drone that the corporate marketing people love, and I’m not sure if you are a religious person … but if so, best of luck on Judgement day. Yes, thankfully, you are in the minority. The majority of Americans have compassion and do care how their choices impact all of God’s creatures, which is why many of them have reduced or eliminated their support of these animal “products”.
    The bottom line is that animals are exploited for profit, without care for their well being. Consumers with good intentions want better treatment and are willing to pay more for “humanely raised” animal products … but any animal slaughtered for profit isn’t receiving humane treatment. The more these companies try to cover up treatment of animals, and exploit their own customers by charging extra for “humanely treated” dead carcasses (when in fact they aren’t treated any better than the “non-humanely treated” animals), the more consumers will realize how they’ve been duped and will stop paying others to abuse animals.
    Years ago, It was acceptable to own a slave, and women didn’t have the right to vote. Why the change? We admitted that what we were doing was wrong and we evolved. Attitudes changed and we became more compassionate. That is what needs to happen here. Animals experience love, fear, pain, joy, and compassion as we do. When we have so much in common, why do we treat them this way?
    If you do believe in God … then know that he gave us free will and choice. I know in my heart that all of God’s creatures … (yes … even you) deserve to be treated humanely and with respect, and we have no right to hurt them, especially when they’ve done nothing to us. Imagine yourself standing before God at the end of your life, proudly proclaiming that a chicken’s life is worthless, and that years of pain and fear for them isn’t important because you found them “tasty” for that few moments at 1 meal. Then ask for mercy for your sins after you’ve shown no mercy for those chickens.
    You inherited your belief system, but also have been given the gift of choice and can evolve as well. We are all born innocent … and inherit the sins of our parents. It’s time to change and make this world a better place for all.

  • MN Born

    Huzzah! Well said!

  • Barb3000

    I have to add this to the fight. In the 1950’s laying hens were not raised in packed pens they had chicken houses that had nests along the walls with shavings in them to protect the eggs from
    breakage. Every morning the small doors at floor level was opened for the hens to go outside down planks to the ground level. The hens were fed and they stayed out side except when they would come back inside to their nest to lay their eggs. At night the hens would all go back inside themselves most of the time a few had to be herded back in, but the eggs was gathered in the mornings and inspected over a light to make sure there were no blood specks in the yoke. The eggs were cleaned off and boxed to be sold. The small town I lived in as a kid was loaded with chicken farms but I never saw any hens packed into cages like what is done now.

  • Louise Despointes

    many people are to blame in mistreatments of farm animals, first the people that want to buy meat for les & less money, & eat too much meat, second that people that sale to the peoples & last the farmers that have been loosing their touch with animals they raise for the food industry asking more & more from them, WE HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THAT BY EDUCATING PEOPLE TO EAT LESS MEAT, i am a vegetarian because of the way animals are raised & killed, but if people would only eat meat 3 time a week instead of every meals, farm animals would start to get better treated

  • Paula B.

    I have lived in the North Georgia chicken farming region for almost 20 years. I know people who are factory farmers and have been to a few “farms”. It is eye opening, as was the video with Mr. Watts. I stopped buying chicken and beef that is not raised using organic and cruelty free methods a long time ago. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive but if more companies researched and adopted better practices the prices would go down. It’s do-able, the big companies just don’t want to change. It will take a boycott of these companies to wake them up. If sales and profits drop it will get their attention. By the way, I do not eat pork because I can’t find any that I can tell what the companies practices are. In my opinion Joe Blow is just a provocateur ( read jerk) who likes to argue.

  • Oginikwe

    You are correct. This vertical integration system was developed by Tyson and it is clearly explained in “The Meat Racket” by Christopher Leonard. Once it proved profitable for Tyson, it was adopted across the board.

  • Crysannia

    Yeh, but keeping a single chicken is actually incredibly cruel. They need to flock. Anything under 3 is cruel really, 2 get confused about who is in charge.

    • Avin Deen

      Perhaps! It would still be far less cruel than what they undergo in factory farms. May be 3 of the smaller breeds like Bantams is possible in a condo.

  • Pippa Hurley

    Thing about sticking your head in the sand, is you leave your arse in the air. Somewhat stooooopid!
    WELL DONE FARMER WATTS! We salute you!

  • jcadams

    Good reporting. And Mr. Watts is a brave person. Please note that an “organic” whole chicken in California costs considerably more than an “industrially raised” chicken — like these Perdue chickens. Such California chickens with an “organic” label are supposedly fed an “all vegetarian” diet with “no antibiotics or growth hormones”. But it’s still unclear to me whether such organically raised chickens are actually allowed to see the light of day. And scratch around in the dirt like real old-time chickens were able to do. From my perspective the fat on industrial whole chickens looks and smells bad. While the fat on a whole, fresh organic chicken in California smells fresher and looks better. (Two higher-end chicken brands sold in California are Mary’s and maybe some offerings from Harris Ranch.) Moreover organic birds may also humanely stunned with carbon dioxide before beheading. But organic birds seem cost 2 to 3 times the cost of packaged whole fresh industrial chickens. A few retailers also carry “heirloom” breeds of chickens. (These traditional breeds are different from “industrial chicken hybrids” which have abnormally large breasts and much less dark meat.) Heirloom chickens eat organic feed with no hormone or antibiotics. Plus they really get to go outdoors like old-time chickens. But the cost for such whole, fresh heritage birds may be 4 to 5 times the industrial Perdue-type
    products. I personally choose to eat smaller portions of higher quality beef and chicken. And I have switched to a diet with more plant-based foods. I would like to see Ms. Garces report on the organic whole fresh chicken market in California.