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Welfare Group Tackles Company over Labelling

by 5m Editor
13 May 2010, at 8:59a.m.

US - Animal Welfare Institute has called on Perdue to remove what it calls misleading claims of 'Humanely Raised' and 'Raised Cage Free' from chicken packaging.

In a letter to Perdue CEO Jim Perdue released on 12 May, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) President Cathy Liss demanded that the company end its use of a misleading label claiming that certain of its chicken products are 'Humanely Raised' and 'Raised Cage Free'. This February, Perdue introduced new product packaging bearing these claims for release in grocery stores. AWI asserts that the 'Humanely Raised' label misleads consumers about how Perdue treats chickens, and the 'Raised Cage Free' label deceptively suggests a special benefit, when in fact no producers raise meat chickens in cages.

The letter launched AWI's effort to publicly expose Perdue for using misleading labelling claims to manipulate consumers who are trying to make humane choices in the market place. Perdue, the country's third largest poultry producer, raises its chickens according to standards that are no better than other industrial chicken producers.

Ms Liss said: "These standards, devised by Perdue and the National Chicken Council (NCC), a private industry group, are not humane under any reasonable consumer understanding of the term. Perdue's lip service to humane treatment, by way of these deceptive claims, is merely an attempt to profit from the growing number of consumers who seek a better alternative to factory-raised chicken."

According to NCC guidelines, Perdue chickens raised for marketing under the 'Humanely Raised' label can be confined in windowless sheds with less than one square foot of space per bird. These standards do not require access to fresh air or sunlight during the duration of the chickens' lives.

Ms Liss alleges: "The chickens are exposed to up to 20 continuous hours of dim, artificial light to further an unhealthy rate of growth. They are bred for rapid growth that allows the birds to be slaughtered earlier but which results in health problems like lameness, heart attack, and even sudden death."

This approach to husbandry satisfies NCC poultry welfare criteria because it represents conventional industry practice but according to a recent national poll conducted for AWI by Edge Research, 70 per cent of consumers said they think chicken labelled 'Humanely Raised' is produced under a standard of animal care that is better than typical chicken production practices. Moreover, 65 per cent of those who frequently shop for chicken meat said the practice of housing chickens in sheds with less than one square foot of space per bird is totally unacceptable.

Dena Jones, AWI farm animal program manager, said: "Truth in labelling is critical so that consumers who want their grocery dollars to promote humane farming are actually supporting farmers who raise their animals under high welfare conditions."

Perdue's new label and promotional materials also deceive consumers by boasting the term 'Raised Caged Free'.

Ms Jones added: "Meat chickens are not and have never been raised in cages under any typical industrial or small-scale production systems in the US. Perdue's 'Raised Caged Free' claim serves no other purpose than to capitalise on the popularity of the 'cage free' label for eggs by exploiting the average consumer's unfamiliarity with modern animal husbandry."

AWI's letter urged Perdue to take meaningful steps toward ensuring the welfare of its chickens but demanded that, until then, Perdue stop obscuring informed choice in the supermarket.