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Perdue announces major reforms for animal care

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Company implements more humane practices for its birds

On June 27, Perdue Foods, the nation's fourth-largest poultry producer, announced a new commitment to animal care aimed at improving the lives of the birds in their meat production. The new policy will affect roughly 700 million birds each year, and officials say it is the first of its kind from any major poultry producer.

Chairman Jim Perdue hosted a press conference June 27 in New York announcing the company's plans to accelerate improved animal care. Perdue officials say the company will switch all houses to controlled atmosphere stunning, a system considered far less cruel by scientists and advocates. The company also plans to install more windows to provide birds natural light while adding hay bales and perches to encourage them to be more active. Perdue aims to provide more space per bird and to reduce the rate at which birds grow.

Perdue began rethinking its standards more than a decade ago. "We started looking at ways to reduce antibiotic use in our chickens back in 2002, and as we learned more about that, we realized that we were going to need to change some of the ways our chickens were being raised for us to be successful raising them without antibiotics," said Julie DeYoung, spokesperson for Perdue Farms.

The company is now the largest producer of organic chickens in the United States, as well as the leading producer of chickens that have not been fed antibiotics. In addition to an increase in organic farming and improving living conditions for the birds, Perdue also aims to improve the company's connection with farmers.

Perdue acquired Niman Ranch last year, a small company dedicated to sustainable and humane practices and great farmer relationships. "That reminded us about how important the farmers are in our success and got us thinking more about how we could better communicate with and better involve the farmers who raise our chickens," said DeYoung. Perdue formed 16 farmer councils to get input from farmers on topics such as adjusting contracts and rewarding farmers for adopting new practices.

The company also talked with activist groups, which encouraged Perdue to be more public with its plans than it had been in the past. As a result, the company plans to be more transparent in the future. "We want to talk about where we are today, where we're going, and commit to giving updates on an annual basis so that people can watch our journey along with us," said DeYoung.

Perdue's new reforms will focus on animal care based on five freedoms that outline animal welfare under human control. The commitment will hold Perdue to standards similar to those in use in Europe, which the American poultry industry has long dismissed as antiquated, inefficient and costly.

With multiple Perdue sites and farmers in Delaware, people will most likely see these changes locally in the near future. The company plans to add additional farms in northern Delaware to raise chickens organically.

"We want to raise healthy birds and deliver the type of products that people will feel good about serving to their family," said DeYoung. "It's something that we're committed to working on for years to come. It's not a one-year, three-year, five-year plan; it's something we really want to incorporate into the culture of the company going forward."

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Original Publication Date: July 8, 2016

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