How truthful are some of the labeling claims that food companies plaster on their industrially produced food? Earlier this month, a North Carolina chicken farmer spoke out against Perdue for its claims that its chickens are “humanely raised.” Craig Watts, who has a contract with Perdue, knows the truth all too well and invited the good people from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) into his chicken house so the world could see the conditions.
Companies like Perdue and Tyson, that control most every part of the business, are already under the microscope by environmental and consumer advocacy groups for their questionable practices. These types of industrialized chicken operations blatantly abuse their poultry and exploit farmers leaving them in perpetual debt. It is, however, a rarity to capture these practices on film due to “Ag-gag” laws and generally evasive behavior from farmers and their parent companies. According to Nicholas Krisoff in a New York Times Op-ed, Watts was so flabbergasted by Perdue’s advertising campaign claiming compassion for their poultry that he couldn’t sit in silence:
As Watts sees it, Perdue realized that consumers were concerned about animal welfare and food safety, and decided to manipulate the public.
The claim about the chickens being raised “cage free” is misleading because birds raised for meat are not in cages. It’s egg-laying chickens that are caged, not the ones we eat. So “cage free” is meaningful for eggs but not for chicken meat. Moreover, Perdue’s chickens are crammed so tightly in barns that they might as well be in cages. Each bird on the Watts farm gets just two-thirds of a square foot.
According to Kristoff, Perdue representatives, in a defensive move, have claimed that it may be Watts’s fault that his chickens are in such poor condition. Lindsay Abrams of Salon reports that hours after the debut of the video, Watts received an audit from Perdue. He may face disciplinary action or the loss of his contract. Abrams comments on the power that Perdue wields over its farmers:
Typically, the power that the company has over its contract farmers is as effective as any ag-gag bill in ensuring that they’ll keep animal rights groups and reporters away; according to Leonard, they “live in perpetual fear that the companies will cancel their contracts.” Judging by Perdue’s actions here, that fear doesn’t seem to be misplaced.”
Like many modern whistleblowers, Watts finds himself between a rock and a hard place -- frustrated with the hypocrisy of Perdue yet indebted to his business and this agribusiness giant. We support his brave move to speak out. Kristoff sums up the irony of it all:
Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.”
If you, too, are frustrated with the state of the poultry industry, lend your voice to CIWF’s Better Chicken Initiative Petition and use their email action tool to send an email to grocers that stock Perdue products demanding that they switch to more human options. Let Craig Watts’s story and bravery inspire you to create a safer, healthier, more sustainable world!
PS - If you are in the mood for more shocking visuals on the impacts of industrialized meat, check out Mishka Henner’s aerial photos of beef and dairy feedlots.
IMAGE: courtesy of The Media Waves
Chicken factory farmer speaks out via Compassion in World Farming
Abusing Chickens We Eat via New York Times
Why one Perdue factory farmer speaks out via Compassion in World Farming
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson