You might not have caught it, but at the end of Stephanie Strom’s article this past weekend in The New York Times, Perdue made a big reveal.

Back in December 2014, Compassion in World Farming released a video showing chickens raised in tightly packed warehouses, laying on feces-ridden litter and with red, raw bellies. To make matters worse, Perdue had been calling their production system “natural” and “humanely raised.” video went viral overnight after being featured in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof and today has more than 2 million views. Consumers were outraged. On the one hand, the company was marketing their birds as antibiotic-free. But, on the other hand, the video revealed dirty, overcrowded, suffering birds — a far cry from what consumers imagined from a “natural” label.

Until this past weekend’s article, it was uncertain whether Perdue was doing anything to address the welfare issues raised in the video. The video called for more space, natural light and slower growth to address inherent leg problems. At the time, Perdue blamed whistleblower Craig Watts for poor management practices rather than taking responsibility. In reality, they had simply run before they could walk. They had taken out antibiotics before addressing the conditions causing suffering in birds.

In the article, Jim Perdue states: “What you think is humane treatment of an animal and what I think is humane treatment of an animal can be different.”

It would seem that in the past months, Perdue has been exploring exactly just what good animal welfare does mean and the latest science on that. Bruce Stewart-Brown, who is in charge of animal welfare at Perdue, visited the EU to learn more about progress in animal welfare, indicating that Perdue is investing in researching better systems. He even refers to touring higher-welfare indoor systems that use windows to bring natural light to the birds, a system already in practice in England, and one advocated by Compassion in World Farming.

Professor Marian Stamp Dawkins, revered animal behavior scientist at Oxford University, has recently begun talking about a simple definition for animal welfare. In her book, “Why Animals Matter: Animal Consciousness, Animal Welfare, and Human Well-being,” she says it comes down to some simple questions: Is the animal healthy? Does the animal have what the animal needs and wants? Stewart-Brown refers to this definition in the article — an exciting evolution from the often-simplistic look at welfare where only health is considered.

The article finishes off with a significant statement from Jim Perdue. “We need happier birds.” It’s an admission that they aren’t happy now, and that Perdue should do better.

Do we dare feel a glimmer of hope for chickens? Perdue has perhaps begun an important and much-needed journey. Where they have led the way on antibiotics, perhaps they will take up the same leadership position when it comes to welfare. But, for now, conditions remain the same for chickens, and consumers will continue to need to keep a watchful eye.

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  • Gary

    We need happier birds? Here is my question, why? How does that help manufacturers and consumers other than giving us all a warmer, fuzzier feeling the chicken we are eating was “happy”?

    • Jonathan Gilbert

      Hmmm, I can’t recall any names of chicken manufacturers.

    • Andre

      I see what you did there. You answered your own question.

    • Mark Caponigro

      That’s a serious problem with what is called “animal welfare,” i.e. making the lives or conditions of farm animals somewhat more comfortable for them, but not changing the basic exploitation, and the end of the story with an untimely and violent death. Very many consumers are won over by news of such animal-welfare improvements, that they gladly remain complicit in the essential hideous injustice.

      • Gary

        Hideous to whom? The animal that is going to die anyways? Sorry, I’ve been to a number of chicken farms and slaughter houses and frankly they are just another commodity. Just another source of food for people.

    • LP

      Gary, would you feel any different if bald eagles were raised in similar conditions?

      • Gary

        If we were eating Bald Eagle eggs and using them as a commodity, no I would not feel any different. Bad comparison Mr. LogicPolice.

        • LP

          Completely legitimate comparison as you were able to respond to it…honestly I hope.
          For some, the symbology of the bald eagle, regardless of its particular usefulness, would preclude them from being “okay” with it.

    • Actually, it can impact on the safety of the meat. Stressed chickens are more susceptible to disease.

      • Gary

        True. However, look at the UK and the changes they have made to raising chickens to be “more humane”. It has actually increased their rates of campylobacter. So not always.

  • Kitsy WooWoo

    “The article finishes off with a significant statement from Jim Perdue. “We need happier birds.”

    They’d be even happier if they knew they wouldn’t end up on somebody’s dinner plate.

  • MN Born

    Today’s chickens are not a complex creature – not only is it pretty easy to determine their wants but it’s not a huge jump to meeting them. Time for change!

  • LouWho

    Thanks for changing the picture. I’m curious though how you determine what a chicken “wants” vs. what you or I want for a chicken. They are different.

  • Barb3000

    I think I have said this before is that before there were these giant factory farms chickens were raised in chicken houses that’s where they lived.
    They had nests that they slept in at night and would lay their eggs that was gathered every morning. They had small door like openings with a small ramp that led to the ground so they spent most of the day except when it was raining outside. They were fed outside except when the weather was bad. In the evening the chickens were herded toward the small doors and locked in to prevent any predators from killing them. The reason I know this is because I was raised in a area of California that was noted for its egg business. The way chickens are raised now is in my opinion extremely cruel, no fresh air, no exercise this is the reason so many chickens die locked up in these stinky pens.

  • MaryFinelli

    As long as chickens -or any other sentient species- are treated as commodities they will needlessly suffer and people will continue to sicken and die because of it. Anyone who genuinely wants to help animals should stop consuming animal products.

    All of the nutrients we need to thrive can be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources. This is what Compassion in World Farming, the government, and any other concerned entity or individual should be promoting. Only a fool would expect industry to do the right thing. Take responsibility for your own health and be considerate of how your consumption impacts others: be vegan.

  • chickenadvocate

    While any alleviation of the suffering of the chickens is better than nothing, chickens cannot Fare Well in industrial production industries, in which chickens are regarded and treated as mere raw material on the way to becoming “product.” This is the concept and it entails breeding birds for abnormal, dysfunctional bodies including crippled skeletons and other deformities, extreme crowding and the toxic filth that extreme crowding of any group of individuals causes, and a life locked away from the natural world of grass, trees, sunshine, other species of life, nutrient-dense soil for chickens to dig in (chickens evolved as foragers in the tropical forests, and that behavioral motivation is within them, as I have witnessed in rescued “broiler” chickens for more than 30 years), and all of the God-given pleasures of being alive in the flesh, including having a mother hen and a rooster running around finding food for his family and calling them to Come and Get It! “Chook, Chook, Chook!”
    How dare we create vile vast prisons filled not with the happy cheeps, chirps, clucks, and crows of exuberant chickens running about, perching, enthusing over their discoveries, but Total Silence and Immobility of living creatures. What “Perdue” represents is the worst: pitiless cruelty. And those who knowingly purchase and consume the “product” of a “Perdue” enterprise share the guilt.
    We have no right to remove chickens or any other creatures from the Earth. We have no right to put chickens or any other creatures in concentration camps, subject them to paralytic electric shocks in slaughterhouses and all the horrible, evil things we do to them. We need to quit eating animals and evolve – yes, EVOLVE to an ethical diet of Plant Power and Compassion. There’s plenty of delicious, nutritious animal-free food out there. This is the way of an intelligent future. Thank you. Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns

    • It is not one or the other, and nothing in-between.

      If we can encourage a major corporations like Perdue to improve its practices, we’ve taken a first step. It’s a major step, too. If Perdue were to adopt European standards, that step could be a game changer.

      You’re saying, if I understand you correctly, nothing will be an improvement. So that signals to Perdue, why should it even try?

      Is that what you want?

      • chickenadvocate

        The first step is to wash our own hands of the violence and cruelty inflicted on chickens and other creatures by choosing to be vegan. If we are not willing to change our own behavior for the sake of the birds and other “food” animals, we cannot expect that a company like Perdue is going to change, since they do not care about the birds but only about their marketing and financial success. The answer is to do both: get our own house in order AND protest to Perdue. But be assured that people who are waiting for Perdue and other companies to upgrade their practices, while continuing to consume animal products and treating animals as edibles – such wishful thinkers will wait forever. The first step isn’t Perdue. The first step is me and you.

      • chickenadvocate

        To re-clarify: the only “signal” that Perdue and companies like Perdue will respond to is a loss of revenue directly attributable to rejection of the “product.” A loss of customers. And the loss must be permanent and big and growing for any “welfare” improvements other than PR and paperwork to occur. What incentive does “Perdue” (i.e., such companies) have to make changes merely in response to WORDS of distress and “outrage” that fail to translate into a hit at the supermarket and the restaurant? The answer is NONE. Write letters, sign petitions, do street demos – yes! – but these alone without a significant reduction in demand will have no effect on Perdue or any other business that is consumer driven.

  • Rachel

    Labels on food are misleading. Shoppers should never rely on labels that say free-range/organic/humanely raised, etc. The easiest way people can spare animals from a life of suffering is by leaving them off their plate. Even switching from eating meat with most meals to only eating meat a few times a week is helpful. Eating less meat is good for your health, the environment, and the animals! If you’re willing to take it a step further…. vegetarians spare on average 31 animals a year. Yes, you can save animal without even lifting a finger!