Like waiting for the dust to settle I’ve been allowing my first gut reaction to calm over the chicken buzz about Perdue and its monumental step toward improving the lives of chickens. Perdue announced its commitment to improved animal welfare in the raising, transporting, and slaughtering of the company’s chickens.
The company commitment centers around a published company document “Perdue Foods, Commitment to Animal Care 2016 and Beyond”. Amongst all of the hoopla surrounding the big news, the company says that it will chart its progress based on the Five Freedoms which is claimed to be “A Global Standard For Animal Husbandry”.
The Five Freedoms was developed in Europe in 1965, and formalized by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979 standard for animal husbandry. The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council provided opinions and advice to Governmental entities and ceased to exist in 2011. It resurfaced that same year as the Farm Animal Welfare Committee serving the same role as its predecessor. According to the UK Government Archives the “Five Freedoms” are:
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
- Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to Express Normal Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
In addition to the Five Freedoms, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee also wrote in an opinion to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, England, Chief Veterinary Officer, Scottish Government, and the Chief Veterinary Officer, Welsh Government that ~
“The concept of sustainability must include the welfare of farm animals. Indeed, livestock agriculture cannot be considered sustainable if an animal’s life is not worth living”.
In my humble opinion, the “Five Freedoms” are very basic things that any human should provide for the animals they own no matter if it’s livestock or pets. If this action is called monumental I hate to think about the conditions that the chickens lived in before this monumental announcement. Yes indeedy folks, it’s wonderful that a multi-national chicken corporation has learned the basics of animal care however I have to say that I hope none of those Perdue folks have animals at home.
Some animal welfare organizations have lauded Perdue for its announcement but have also conveyed a “we will see” approach, and I agree. If anyone truly transforms from the status quo in the method of raising industrial chickens, they deserve to be lauded. As much as I would love to think that the day for change in industrial chicken production has finally come, I’m still a doubting Thomas.
I believe that public opinion has induced Perdue to take a step toward improved animal welfare. 2 Years ago I conducted a marketing analysis of my own customer’s to identify consumer preferences in purchasing my eggs. Animal welfare (how the animals are raised) was the number one reason for product purchasing. Certification by a transparent and independent third party was at the top as well. In my case it’s Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) that audits my farm annually and certifies that I meet all of the written and published standards. The standards are the most stringent in the country. Consumers have become more aware of where their food comes from and how it was produced and these concerns have risen to the top of the list of purchasing decisions.
What was a niche market for products raised humanely has now become a market to capture. This not only resonates in the United States but worldwide. The World Bank has a statement about animal welfare based on the “Five Freedoms” and looks favorably for investing in livestock production (especially pigs and chickens) with corporations that have a “Five Freedoms” animal welfare policy.
Since I’m talking about policy at the moment I’ll bring us back to Perdue. Most everyone knows that the farmers that the company contracts with to raise its chickens, known as contract growers, have no control over the policies set by the company. They have to follow what the company says. For the life of me I can’t ever remember receiving a policy handbook from the company in the 23 years we raised chickens as contract growers. I distinctly do remember being given a verbal edict many times from the company about how to raise the chickens followed up with “it’s company policy”. Although I asked for a copy of the company policy handbook, I was ignored and didn’t receive it.
In the monumental announcement the company says it will listen more to the farmers it contracts with. Perdue also has finally written down on paper and published its intentions of improving the lives of chickens. Although vague, the document does say that the company will operate off of the “Five Freedoms”. Since transparency is involved in the monumental announcement I’d like to see specifics from the company of exactly what it means.
A few days ago, the New York Times ran a story “ Perdue Aims to Make Chickens Happier and More Comfortable” pretty much writing the same things that every other news source was saying. Ironically, a little under a year ago, the New York Times ran a story “Perdue Sharply Cuts Antibiotic Use in Chickens and Jabs at Its Rivals” talking about the company product of “no antibiotics ever”. About half of the company’s chickens are labeled and sold under the “no antibiotics ever” claim.
My first thought is that yesterday the company transformed into a company that gave consumers what they were asking for (no antibiotics) and today Perdue will be violating item number 3 of the “Five Freedoms” by not treating a sick animal just because it needs to be sold under the “no antibiotics ever” label.
You can’t claim it both ways without violating one or the other claims. I guess whichever method “Five Freedoms” or “No Antibiotics Ever” will be decided by the profits the company reaps. So much for the monumental step the company has taken.
The challenge for consumers will be in figuring out which brand under the FPP Family Investments umbrella, owned by the Perdue Family, fits which claim the headlines are shouting.