Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Food News: Perdue Responds to Consumer Pressure

In what is being trumpeted in the press as a major step forward for chicken producers, Perdue Foods, which bought Washington-based Draper Valley Farms in 2011 and is the fourth-largest poultry producer in the nation, said that it will be taking steps to overhaul its animal welfare practices. A recent article in the New York Times said that the chickens at one contract farm that is instituting some of the changes "bask in sunlight" and "flap their wings and chase one another."

Chicken barn showing windows (at left end ).

In truth, though, it's far from the picture that most of us have of chickens foraging in grass and pecking at bugs. The chickens at these producers will still live in huge flocks of thousands of birds crammed into long, low barns and live on floors covered with litter that is a combination of their urine and feces, causing their skin and feet to blister and burn. The windows being installed in the barns (top photo) are small and high off the ground, and spaced perhaps thirty feet apart, not exactly allowing the birds to "bask" in the meager light they provide.

Perdue has also been taking steps to eliminate antibiotics from diets of the 676 million birds it produces, estimating "it has eliminated antibiotic use in two-thirds of the chickens it processes, up from 50% a year ago" and that "half of the company’s turkeys and about half the poultry it sells to restaurants are raised with no antibiotics," according to Perdue officals quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

What caused this sudden change of heart? "Consumers have voted," the Journal quotes Eric Christianson, head of marketing for Perdue, as saying. "We’re embracing it, because it’s what the consumer wants."

While it's a far cry from the measures that concerned consumers would like to see when it comes to the welfare of the animals that they'll be feeding their families—as well as issues like pollution from waste runoff, worker safety and wages, affects on neighbors, etc.—it does show that even large corporations respond when pressure from consumers is put on their bottom lines.

Photos from the New York Times.

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