Perdue Foods announced June 27 a new four-part plan that focuses on animal welfare, its farmers, transparency and continuous improvement.
The plan, titled “2016 & Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care,” was developed with input from stakeholders such as farmers, academics and leaders of animal advocate organizations who were invited by Perdue to help shape this progressive animal care plan that sets new industry standards.
Chairman Jim Perdue said the plan will accelerate the company's progress in animal care, strengthen relationships with farmers, build trust with multiple stakeholder groups and create an animal care culture for continued improvement.
“As we continue to learn about innovative and better ways to raise animals through our No Antibiotics Ever journey and our experience in raising organic chickens, we are adopting a four-part plan that will result in changing how we raise chickens,” he said. “Transparency is very important to Perdue consumers, who are interested knowing how we raise, care for and harvest our chickens. Our vision is to be the most trusted name in food and agricultural products, and animal care is a big part of that journey.”
Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, Perdue's senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production, said poultry production as a whole has made great progress in keeping chickens healthy but added that improvements can be made by implementing policies that go beyond meeting chickens' basic needs.
“We want to create an environment where chickens can express normal behaviors,” he said. “Over the past five years, we've been exposed to and learned some husbandry techniques associated with organic production, and through the brands that have recently joined our company, we've been able to learn from some of the pioneers of a more holistic approach to animal well-being. When we talked to farmers, they responded very positively to these improved husbandry methods.”
Additionally, Perdue heard from consumers that how animals raised for food are treated is important to them, he said.
As the first major company to commit to implementing such progressive practices in raising and harvesting animals system-wide, Perdue said its "Commitments to Animal Care" goes well beyond most other companies' commitments to encompass not only the animals but also the people who care for and handle them, as well as stakeholders who have an interest in this area.
“It's a huge effort for a company of our size to communicate what we're going to do, how we are going to do it, how we are going to measure ourselves going forward,” Perdue said. “We think it's very exciting that the company is fully behind us, our associates are behind it, our farmers are behind it, and at the end of the day, the beneficiary will be our chickens.”
Regarding management of the birds, the company said it will design and implement an improved baby chick (starter) nutritional regimen for better long-term health.
The plan will also focus on space, rest and activity for broilers. Perdue's goal is to double the rate of play/activity by its chickens in the next three years. These modifications will be specifically designed to address broiler chicken growth rates that cause discomfort to birds and could include breeds of birds that grow more slowly and more uniformly.
The majority of chickens today are raised in fully enclosed barns without natural light, but Perdue is retrofitting 200 chicken houses with windows by the end of 2016 to compare bird health and activity to enclosed housing.
The company announced that it is converting to controlled-atmosphere stunning (CAS) at all Perdue harvest plants. “The goal is to have the next CAS installation operational by the end of 2017, followed by gradual implementation at all its facilities,” the company said.
Other commitments include implementing video monitoring of catching crews and transport vehicles, with weekly spot checking of video recordings. Perdue will also implement additional pay incentives for farmers and others who handle live birds to further promote appropriate handling of live chickens.
“We are only just getting started. Our animal care plan is not a static document; it is an ongoing journey focused on learning, listening and responding to further advance how we care for animals as well as how we will continue to strengthen our relationship with the farmers who raise our chickens,” Perdue said. “It's not the cheapest or easiest way to produce food; it's the Perdue way.”