KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Conditions at a North Carolina poultry farm became the subject of a mini-documentary produced by an animal-welfare organization.
Compassion in World Farming released the documentary on Dec. 3. It featured Craig Watts, a poultry grower in North Carolina, who raises chickens for Perdue. The video depicts dead chickens, injured birds and birds with deformities. Auditors from Perdue arrived at Watts' farm. Watts said the audit was retaliation for appearing in the documentary. Perdue dismissed the claim.
"Perdue Farms has thoroughly reviewed the video posted by an animal advocacy group, and we can assure you that the conditions shown in this farmer’s poultry house do not reflect Perdue’s standards for how our chickens are raised," the company said in a statement. "It is clear from the video that he is not following our guidelines and failed to provide appropriate animal care."
Additionally, the company asked the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) to review the footage and give "an unbiased assessment".
The CFI panelists included Dr. Patricia Hester, Purdue Univ.; Dr. S.F. Bilgili, Auburn Univ.; and Dr. Ruth Newberry, Washington State Univ. and the Norwegian Univ. of Life Sciences.
"In a large flock, there will be some birds with problems depicted in this video," Newberry said. "Due to editing of the film, it is impossible to determine if the same birds are shown multiple times or if there are more widespread problems. The incidence of these conditions should be documented by the farmer and the reasons should be investigated. Birds with incurable conditions should be detected at an early stage and euthanized immediately. It's the humane thing to do."
The panelists made several observations. For example, Watts said his contract with Perdue did not allow him to remove the solid walls of the chicken house and provide the chickens access to the outdoors. Dr. Hester said the disadvantages of outdoor access include higher mortality due to inclement weather, predators and exposure to animal diseases.
"For solid wall houses without exposure to outside natural light, artificial supplemental light is provided," Hester added. "Sunlight is not needed by the chickens to meet their vitamin D requirement because the feed is supplemented with adequate levels of Vitamin D. Fresh air is brought into the chicken house through the inlets of the ventilation system and the stale air removed through exhaust fans."
The panel also addressed the mortality rates of broiler chickens. The video's narrator states that in a flock of 30,000 birds, it's not unusual for 1,000 to die prematurely.
"This is a correct figure," Bilgili said. "Average mortality in the US is about 3-4 percent, depending on the bird age. Nobody wants to lose animals, but we have come a long way in improving the health and well-being of broiler chickens."