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The reality of “natural” chicken in the USA

News Section Icon Published 04/12/2014

Craig, a chicken farmer, allowed Compassion USA unrestricted access to his farm, to see the reality of how chickens are kept and why he is forced to keep them in these horrific environments.

In the era of Ag-Gag and undercover investigations, when parts of the animal agriculture industry are actively trying to keep the American public in the dark about factory farming, this is an astonishing step. Craig opened up the doors on the notoriously secretive chicken industry.

Why did he do it?

Craig says: “This stuff is not as advertised. There are a lot of flaws in the system. The consumer’s being hoodwinked, the farmer’s being jerked around.”

It brings to light a troubling truth. Americans would think they are buying chickens raised in idyllic free-range, outdoor environments when the meat is labelled “natural” or “antibiotic-free”. 

What they are actually buying are chickens raised on a bed of faeces-filled litter that hasn’t been changed for years. They are buying chickens bred to get so big, so fast, they often can’t stand on their own two legs. They are buying chickens raised in dimly lit warehouses, who never see the light of day except when coming from the hatchery or heading to the slaughterhouse.

With an image of green pastures in their mind, shoppers are buying chicken from a factory farm.

The video we made of our trip to Craig’s farm details the living conditions of chickens he raises for Perdue, a major US producer. Chickens that are being marketed as humanely raised, but are not. Perdue’s claims are backed by the USDA Process Verified Program, giving them a seal of approval for their humanely raised claim.

Bound by contract, Craig is not able to give his chickens natural light or provide them with fresh air. He does not control the genetics or health of the birds, which are delivered to him. He does not decide how many birds are packed into the shed, nor is he allowed to provide an enriched environment that could make their lives better.

Craig says: “If you give them natural light, the birds are more active. [Perdue] doesn’t want that. They want him sitting down, getting up, getting water, a bite to eat, and sitting back down. He gets fat then.” 

Better Chicken: for them and for us

When we ask him what he’d like to do for them, he says: “I’d give them back natural light and fresh air. Number one, it’s better for them, and number two, it’s better for all of us.”

Chicken is the number one protein consumed in the United States, but the picture on the farm is often a far cry from the one on the label. For farmer and bird alike, it means an unhealthy, difficult, often painful life – even if the chicken is then marketed as “all natural” and “antibiotic-free.”

Supermarkets and the USDA must correct the disparity between what the American consumer thinks they are buying and what they are actually buying. Craig is a pioneer, opening up his farm to show consumers how their chicken is produced. He’s shown us the truth, now we need to question confusing or misleading chicken labelling and demand better options where both farmers and farmed animals are treated more fairly. 

Take action

Through our Better Chicken Initiative, consumers can demand the USDA and supermarkets stop aiding in the deception of consumers with misleading labels, and empower shoppers to exercise their values at the grocery store.


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