Perdue Farms engages thousands of “contract farmers” each year to raise company-owned birds. Contract farmers are obligated to abide by Perdue’s animal-raising standards and any other specifications established by the company. The standards and specifications are notoriously neither bird- nor farmer-friendly.
North Carolina farmer Craig Watts has been under contract to raise chickens for Perdue for 22 years. Initially, he did well, but the inflexibility and economic conditions imposed by Purdue began to chafe, and the animal welfare implications began to trouble him.
So, much as Maryland chicken farmer Carole Morison did in the documentary Food, Inc.(see Summer 2010 AWI Quarterly), Watts decided to open his barn doors to a film crew to show the world what Perdue contract farming really means. It isn’t pretty. Footage of the chickens shows their bellies red and raw from contact with urine-soaked bedding, and supersized birds with broken legs and wings who are barely able to move.
Immediately after Watts exposed Perdue’s raising standards, Perdue condemned him as an outlier, claiming that he was not following the company’s guidelines. However, Watts was a top-rated producer in Perdue’s own tournament system for each flock documented. According to Watts, Perdue never came onto his farm to check the welfare of the birds—that is, until he allowed others to see what happens under Perdue standards.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of this story is that the USDA gives its “Process Verified” seal of approval for birds raised to Perdue’s standards, and even allows the claim “humanely raised” to be associated with these products. (For more on the shortcomings of the USDA Process Verified program, see AWI’s Humanewashed report at www.awionline.org/humanewashed.)