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Big Chicken

August 7, 2015

Bravery isn’t my strong suit. I tried to look as brave as I could when taking Little Miss Fussy up on the ferris wheel at the county fair. But I held her hand tightly with one hand, while my other hand was grasping onto the safety rail for dear life.

Had I been actually brave, I might have had a free hand to dig into my pocket and grab my phone for a father-daughter selfie. So it goes.

You could say that I’m a big chicken.

But that’s not the kind of big chicken I’m going to write about today. It’s just a happy coincidence. Once again, I’m going to talk a bit about large farming operations and the mass market brands that drive them. Since it’s Friday, you’ll even get to watch a short video.

There are some people who are knee-jerk opponents of big corporations. I’m not one of those. In fact, I’ve said time and time again that with a global food system, if we want big change, we’ve got to influence the big players. You are not going to effect change by demonizing your opposition.

So there’s some good news about Perdue. Granted, it’s not all good news. But at least a little bit of good seems to have come out of the bad. Let’s call it a ray of hope.

Perdue has been working to get antibiotics out of chicken production. They’ve actually been working on this for quite some time, but have been getting more successful at doing it well. Or so they would have us believe.

This is where the video comes in. Just remember, what looks humane to some chicken farmers and the government agencies who care about such things, may look different to consumers.

So yes, there are chickens dying and suffering because they aren’t being given antibiotics. And yes, the current best practices still involve not giving the birds sunlight or fresh air. Even the “happy” ones.

Despite this, I still fundamentally think that walking away from antibiotics that are significant to human medicine is important. I would feel even better if the chicken industry could get away from ionophores, which are also antibiotics, but ones that are designed exclusively for meat production. But they are working on that too.

These changes, by the way, have all been driven by consumer demand. So some people must have been paying attention to the rants and screeds on the subject over the years. If you were one of them, thanks for helping to make a difference.

On the animal welfare front, there’s some exciting news too. In response to the video, at the end of The New York Times story, Jim Perdue is quoted as saying,

We need happier birds.

And even though he doesn’t acknowledge any “cruelty”, within that statement Mr. Perdue is clearly observing that his birds are unhappy. And improving their happiness is an actual goal for the company moving forward.

What this will mean is anybodies guess. But the hope is that a new standard will emerge that satisfies a few basic questions: “Is the animal healthy? Does the animal have what it wants and needs?”

Will it come to pass? It’s hard to say. But it’s great to see a big poultry company being brave and asking itself the hard questions and taking a leadership role to improve our chicken. Now if they can work on their business practices and give the farmers a better shake, that would be fantastic.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2015 12:00 pm

    This is all horrible. Chickens and chicken farmers have been treated miserably for way too long – something has got to change and if I can help I will. First order of business is not to buy from the big names. If you are in the Capital Region go to WH Buckley Farm in Ballston Lake. They have fresh chicken right now from chickens that grew up in the front yard eating bugs and stuff and playing in the dirt and sunshine.

  2. North Country Rambler permalink
    August 9, 2015 1:56 pm

    You are absolutely right. To truly implement a change, you need to influence the behavior of the big players. Its easy to suggest that we all support our local chicken farmers and think local, think small. The birds are happier, they are usually raised without all of th usual supplement suspects, and most importantly, they taste better. People who care about what they are eating will do that. And I suspect that your average reader will be someone who really cares about what they are eating. I go out of the way to buy all of my chickens – and eggs – locally. But – the sad reality is, we pay $15 – $20 for a locally raised organic bird. Many, if not most people are not going to do that. If I am struggling to put food on the table, and there are three little ones sitting at the table with me, I will probably buy my chicken at the local grocery and pay under $10. That is why it is such welcome news to see Perdue finding religion – or at least finding a way to make a better bird.

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