The third-largest poultry producer in the US is to face court action over the marketing of its chicken as “humane”.
Two members of US welfare group The Human Society of the United States (HSUS) filed the lawsuit against Perdue Farms with a federal court in New Jersey, claiming that the company had misled consumers by using a “Humanely Raised” label on its Harvestland chickens.
Lawyers for Perdue pushed for dismissal of the case but their arguments were rejected by the court on March 31, meaning that the lawsuit can now proceed to the discovery phase and eventually trial.
The lawsuit claims that the standards on which Perdue Farms bases its “humanely raised” claim “are not meaningfully different” from guidelines issued by industry body the National Chicken Council and that these standards allow treatment of birds which consumers would not consider humane.
HSUS claimed this includes “painful handling and shackling of live birds; housing in conditions that prevent normal resting behavior and cause painful health problems; the transport of birds on cramped trucks for long periods of time in extreme temperatures with no food or water; and inhumane slaughter of birds”.
Poultry are currently excluded from the US Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which requires that livestock be handled and slaughtered in a humane way.
HSUS said that a key part of Perdue’s defence was that consumers would not expect a “Humanely Raised” label to be an assurance that birds had been humanely slaughtered, but the Jersey court ruled that it was entirely “plausible for the reasonable consumer to construe the Humanely Raised label as speaking to Perdue’s processes up until the time of death, including slaughter.”
Commenting on the court decision, Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation at The HSUS, said: “Companies such as Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for products that meet higher animal welfare standards.
“Slapping ‘humanely raised’ stickers on the same old factory farmed products is not going to cut it with either consumers or the courts.”
In response, Perdue pointed out that the HSUS was a “radical, pro-vegan animal-rights group” opposed to raising animals for food production.
The company said that it stood by its Humainely Raised claimed and planned to “vigorously” defend itself.
“It is important to note that HSUS falsely asserts that there is no difference between Perdue’s welfare program and industry standards. In truth, the Harvestland/Perdue Poultry Welfare Program exceeds the National Chicken Council guidelines in several areas, including monitoring air quality in the poultry house, video monitoring of live-bird handling areas at the processing plant and USDA audits of producer farms and our hatcheries,” it said.
“Contrary to the image HSUS attempts to portray, all of our chickens and turkeys are raised under a strict USDA Process Verified Program that ensures adherence to our Poultry Welfare Program from hatchery to processing. This includes numerous, documented checks and audits at every step in the process.
“All of our chickens and turkeys are raised cage-free on family farms. They live in temperature-controlled housing with fresh-air ventilation, where they are protected from disease, predators and the elements. They have constant access to food and water, room to move about and exhibit natural behaviors, and cycles of light and dark to ensure resting periods.”
It added that chickens were transported from farm to the plant in specially designed coops designed to protect them from injury and weather extreme, and kept in covered sheds with misters and fans on arrival at the slaughterhouse.