Perdue plans major reforms in animal care

Perdue Foods unveiled a four-part plan for better care of its chickens in a teleconference on Monday. (Submitted phoitos/Perdue Farms)

Perdue Foods unveiled a four-part plan for better care of its chickens in a teleconference on Monday. (Submitted photos/Perdue Foods)

DOVER — Taking what company officials called a proactive approach to enhanced animal care, Perdue Foods said Monday all its chickens will experience more comfort and health before being processed as food.

The company unveiled its four-part plan designed to “accelerate its progress in animal care, strengthen relationships with farmers, build trust with multiple stakeholder groups and create an animal care culture for continued improvement.”

The plan titled “2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care” was announced publicly via teleconference and chairman Jim Perdue welcomed the attention.

“We expect people to hold us accountable,” he said. “This is a long-term process.”

Perdue Foods Chairman Jim Perdue is stressing better animal care.

Perdue Foods Chairman Jim Perdue is stressing better animal care.

Moving forward, the company aims to provide its poultry with optimal food and water, freedom from discomfort, conditions to lessen pain, injury and disease, opportunity to express its natural behavior, and a reduction of fear and stress involving its handling and living conditions.

Also emphasized was a strengthened relationship with the farmers who “spend more time with the chickens than we do,” said Bruce Stewart-Brown, Perdue senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production.

“We have to listen and … interact with farmers in a better way. Happy farmers will hopefully care for our chickens in a better way.”

Camden poultry farmer Georgie Cartanza, who raises 156,000 chickens a year in five flocks, said she’s all for Perdue’s initiative.

She believes chicken house enhancements such as natural light and props to increase exercise will allow a more natural habitat, understanding of sunrise and sunset and “change in their activity. … They play more and are more content.”

Also, the publicly unveiled plan can help erase “misconceptions” of what occurs while raising poultry and hopefully “change the perspective of people,” according to Ms. Cartanza.

Perdue Foods handled 676 million chickens last year.

Better husbandry

Five years into producing organically raised chickens, Perdue Foods said adopting better husbandry techniques for raising and harvesting poultry will benefit animals and consumers, and enhance the company’s evolving business plan.

“Poultry production as a whole has made great progress in keeping chickens healthy. However, we can improve by implementing policies that go beyond meeting chickens’ basic needs,” Mr. Stewart-Brown said.

“We want to express an environment where chickens can express normal behaviors.”

Opportunity for chickens to exercise more is a key component to forward thinking animal care, Perdue Foods said.

Mr. Perdue noted the company received input from university researchers, animal welfare experts and advocate groups that were at odds with the chicken industry.

At the end of the day, he said, “The chickens are going to be in a much better environment.”

Perdue aims to expand its vaccination program and create a more controlled unloading process, along with adding herbs to feed that build a chicken’s immune system, Mr. Stewart-Brown said.

“The first feed that an animal gets has to be spectacular,” he said, noting the advantage in building stronger bones and increasing resistance to disease for the chickens.

Perdue plans to add windows in 200 current chicken houses by the end of 2016 and study “the role of enrichments such as perches and bales of hay to encourage activity,” Mr. Stewart-Brown said.

“Our goal is to double the activity of our chickens in the next three years.”

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