Today, the Humane Society of the United States asked the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency charged with protecting consumers, to investigate allegedly deceptive marketing claims made by Pilgrim’s Pride, the second largest chicken producer in the United States, which wrongly leads consumers to believe the company treats its chickens better than other chicken producers.
Last year, an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States exposed extreme animal suffering at chicken production and slaughtering facilities connected to Pilgrim’s Pride. In the year since, the company has failed to make any significant changes to improve the lives of more than a billion chickens its facilities produce each year. But Pilgrim’s Pride continues to use deceptive marketing tactics, telling consumers that it not only treats chickens humanely, but that it treats them “as humanely as possible.”
As surveys show, no reasonable consumer thinks it is humane to use chickens bred to grow so large so fast that they suffer crippling and even fatal injuries—abuses our investigator uncovered at a Pilgrim’s Pride facility. Nor does the average consumer find it humane to drag the animals through scalding water while fully conscious.
Factory farm interests have a long history of misleading consumers about the cruelty involved in raising animals to produce meat, eggs and dairy products, and for our part, we have a long track record of exposing such “humane-washing” deceptions and taking action to stop it.
In the United States, chickens raised for meat are the most abused of all farm animals. Roughly nine billion birds are slaughtered every year in our country, and the vast majority of them suffer intensely due to widespread industry practices that ruthlessly boost profits while imposing terrible cruelty and suffering upon the birds.
The HSUS’s two recent undercover investigations, along with whistleblower accounts revealing harsh conditions at the facilities where the chicken are raised, and U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports indicating inhumane slaughter practices, show that Pilgrim’s Pride’s preferred methods of production systemically harm the chickens in its care.
At one of the company’s contract farm facilities, our investigator documented cruelties caused by raising unnaturally fast-growing birds in extremely cramped conditions, leading to crippling leg deformities. At times, the birds are so heavy they could do nothing but collapse on the manure covered floor of the windowless warehouses they were crammed into.
At slaughter, federal inspection records show birds were ineffectively rendered unconscious by electrified stun baths which can cause chickens to be cut or scalded while conscious – a tragedy that happens so often the industry has a slang term for these unfortunate animals: “red birds.”
Because Pilgrim’s Pride controls essentially every aspect of the lives of its chickens, from birth to slaughter, the cruelties that we, and others, uncovered are very likely not isolated.
There are certainly more humane methods available to Pilgrim’s Pride, and the company should adopt them if it wants to accurately claim that its birds are “raised, transported and processed as humanely as possible.” For instance, the HSUS, along with Compassion in World Farming and Mercy For Animals – recently worked with a Pilgrim’s Pride competitor, Perdue Farms. The company considered and ultimately agreed to make many animal welfare improvements, including raising slower growing chickens who have fewer animal welfare problems than their fast-growing counterparts.
Instead of electrified stun baths, Pilgrim’s Pride could use controlled-atmosphere stunning systems that work by using a mixture of gasses to render birds unconscious before they are removed from their transport crates. This system eliminates the suffering associated with dumping, handling and shackling live birds.
Consumers care deeply about the welfare of animals raised for food and rely on advertising and marketing claims to identify animal products that they consider to be more ethically produced. We urge the FTC to take action to protect millions of conscientious consumers who are now being misled by Pilgrim’s Pride into thinking they are purchasing chicken that was humanely produced when all the evidence points to the contrary.