Breaking News: Perdue Announces Major Reforms For chickens; Progress Spotlights Poultry Problems, Solutions

As we begin our launch of a major campaign to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat, I'm happy to report one of the biggest brand names in the world of chicken production is announcing promising reforms.

The HSUS has helped set veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages on a trajectory toward extinction in the United States, through our corporate, legislative, litigation, and investigative efforts (which are partly chronicled in a feature piece this week in CQ Roll Call and also in Sunday's column by Rekha Basu in the Des Moines Register). While we're keeping the heat on to ensure the finality of outcomes (including through our Massachusetts ballot measure), many are asking, "What's next for corporate animal welfare improvements?"

The answer is clear: improving the lives of chickens in meat production. And today marks a pivotal moment in the early stages of our making that issue top-of-mind for the food industry: Perdue, the country's fourth-largest poultry producer, has announced a series of meaningful and precedent-setting reforms to improve the lives of the roughly 700 million birds it raises and slaughters each year.

According to its new policy, which came after a series of meetings we had with the company, Perdue will:

◾switch all its slaughterhouses away from shackling live animals and toward controlled atmosphere stunning -- a method of slaughter long recognized by scientists and advocates alike as being far less cruel;
◾start installing windows to provide birds natural light and add enrichment (like hay bales and perches);
◾start testing slower-growing birds (typical growth occurs so fast that it causes immense suffering); and
◾start providing more space per bird.

We'll continue to work with Perdue toward ensuring the company adds timelines for accomplishing these important steps. Coupled with Whole Foods' and Bon Appétit Management Company's announcements earlier this year on this topic, Perdue's decision shows even more clearly that while the poultry industry needs much reform, change on this issue is gathering momentum.

It also shows how key actors within animal agriculture and animal protection can join together to make progress on big problems -- even when those involved are former foes. The HSUS previously sued Perdue for false labeling around animal welfare claims and yet the company now has positioned itself at the head of the pack on the very issue we battled on. Perdue certainly deserves credit for the being first major company to begin addressing these issues, as do Compassion in World Farming and Mercy For Animals, for their work with us and Perdue on this policy.

We're now calling on all other major poultry producers -- including Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, and Sanderson Farms -- to follow Perdue's lead and take steps to address these key issues. Change for the birds cannot come soon enough.

Will other producers try and fight the future? Or will they be proactive in creating policies like Perdue's that mirror the broad increase in calls for a more morally alert and improved food system? Whichever path they decide on, we'll be there to propel and demand change for the better. With nine billion chickens caught up each year in food production in our country, this is perhaps one of the most important things we can do to reduce animal suffering.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.