Can the new Perdue animal welfare standards really change an industry that exploits both humans and animals?
Are the Perdue Animal Welfare Standards News Good News?
News outlets lit up last week with the news that Perdue, one of the largest chicken producers in the US, was setting new standards to ensure producers take much better care of their chickens. Perdue is not one production facility but a network of thousands of farmers raising chickens under one brand.
While Perdue has been making incremental changes over the years (phasing out antibiotics, for example), it was an undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals (MFA) that revealed horrifying animal abuse at some Perdue farms. In response, nearly 182,000 consumers signed a Change.org petition urging Perdue to adopt more stringent animal welfare standards.
The New York Times explains that these standards, “will hold Perdue to standards similar to those in Europe, which the American poultry industry has long dismissed as antiquated, inefficient and costly.” If you’re not yet familiar with the terrible conditions of chicken farms (for both workers and animals) I’d strongly encourage you to watch the MFA expose video, but be prepared to be truly horrified.
Jim Perdue, whose grandfather founded Perdue in 1920, is quoted in the NYT saying, “We are going to go beyond what a chicken needs and give chickens what they want.” So what is it that chickens want?
What Perdue is offering their Chickens
The Perdue animal welfare standards, in a nutshell, promise their chickens:
- windows for natural sunlight
- more space to run around
- perches to allow chickens to be more active (and address their natural need to climb) and safe spaces for chickens to hide
- slower-growing breeds of chickens to allow for natural growth (instead of the infamously breast-heavy breeds producers have previously relied on for faster production.
- anaesthetized before slaughter with gas rather than electric currents
This is certainly better than the way these chickens live now, but at its heart does it really go far enough? If we truly care about these animals’ welfare, why are we raising them to slaughter in the first place?
Leah Garces, of Compassion in World Farming’s American chapter, praises the Perdue animal welfare standards in the NYT. She says, “Perdue is going well beyond what Tyson has done, and no other big poultry producer has come close to those two.” Even the Humane Society has come out in support of the measures, with Josh Balk, the senior food policy director at the Humane Society, calling the move ‘precedent-setting.’
Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the country, has adopted their own animal welfare standards, but has just ‘asked’ farmers to abide by the rules, known as the five freedoms of animal welfare.
Why This is Really Just Business As Usual
There are many reasons to be vegan or vegetarian. My partner, who has been vegetarian for over 20 years, has made this choice primarily because of sustainability reasons. Raising animals for food is an unsustainable and ultimately economically unfeasible practice, and he chooses not to support it.
But for many vegans/vegetarians– myself included– the choice comes from primarily ethical concerns– I want to inflict the least amount of suffering on animals and the world. So news that a chicken producer is being nice to chickens is totally incongruous, because the chickens are still being killed for human consumption.
This is the inherent oxymoron of ‘humane meat’ or animal welfare standards: the NYT reports that, “numerous surveys conducted by the dairy and meat industries suggest that people care and want to know about animal welfare.” Sounds good, I care about animal welfare too– but that is why I choose not to eat them.
It seems to me that if people truly cared about animals and the conditions they must endure in order to end up on your plate, they would choose not eat them.
Ecorazzi has a similar take on this issue. In a post titled I Won’t Applaud Perdue, They’re Still Killing Chickens, the author explains this position in no uncertain terms:
“The theory here is that giving chickens more space, windows, and props that encourage activity will somehow dissolve guilt from the minds of people who are then paying to have them killed to be eaten. They’re far from the first, with many taking advantage of how ‘cruelty free’ and ‘humane’ labels are being consistently misinterpreted by the masses. While everyone can agree that less suffering is always better than more suffering, supporting an organization to create less suffering instead of none sends the wrong message to them, and the consumers who keep them in business.”
As someone who wishes to see all creatures free from suffering, the new Perdue animal welfare standards do offer a bit of hope. Yes, it’s great that the animals will have slightly better lives– but what does it REALLY mean if the end of their life is in sight?
I strongly feel that the move towards ‘ethical’ or ‘humane’ meat is a better move, but it is not the answer for a truly compassionate world. Standards like this are just an excuse to justify meat eating, in which case these standards mean little overall, because it means continued support for industrial animal agriculture and an industry that exploits both humans and animals. Animal agriculture is– at its heart– an industry of death and suffering and thus cannot be truly compassionate.