This week, The Humane Society of the United States filed a complaint asking the Federal Trade Commission to stop Rose Acre Farms, the country's second-largest egg producer, from making false and misleading animal welfare claims to potential consumers. The complaint documents how Rose Acre's websites, media spokespersons, and product posters claim that Rose Acre provides a "humane and friendly environment" for its caged hens, that hens have plenty of space to move around and socialize, that only well-treated and "happy" chickens will lay eggs, and other grossly misleading characterizations of the company's intensive battery cage egg operations.
These claims are at odds with what an HSUS investigation uncovered this year at three of Rose Acre's Iowa factory farms (which collectively confine nearly 4 million egg-laying hens). Contrary to the company's cheerful claims, our investigator found birds trapped in cage wires, unable to reach food or water; birds with broken bones and untreated, prolapsed uteruses; mummified corpses in cages with live hens; and abandoned hens who had fallen into manure pits.
Rose Acre is hardly alone among factory farming producers in fostering deception. It's the animal welfare equivalent of "greenwashing"--a corporate interest slapping a "humane" sticker on their same old products and hoping consumers won't know the difference.
Perdue, the nation's third-largest poultry producer, recently launched a new marketing scheme claiming that its chickens are "Humanely Raised." The labels, which appear on a number of products under both its Perdue and Harvestland brands, are accompanied by a seal stating that the humane claim is "USDA Process Verified."
Although the mark may suggest that the USDA has certified the truthfulness of Perdue's claim, that is not the case. The seal simply means that USDA has found that Perdue is following the voluntary standards Perdue sets for itself.
The standards upon which Perdue has based its "Humanely Raised" claim, which covers the treatment of meat, or "broiler," chickens from hatching to slaughter, are the so-called "Animal Welfare Guidelines" of the National Chicken Council--the trade group for the industry. And that's hardly "humane" (PDF).
Dr. Temple Grandin, among the world's foremost farm animal handling and slaughter experts, puts it bluntly: "Today's poultry chicken has been bred to grow so rapidly that its legs can collapse under the weight of its ballooning body. It's awful." In response to the industry's voluntary animal husbandry program cited by Perdue, Dr. Grandin is equally frank: "The National Chicken Council Animal Welfare audit has a scoring system that is so lax that it allows plants or farms with really bad practices to pass."
Among other things, the guidelines permit birds to be slaughtered by being shackled upside-down while fully conscious, submerged in electrified water, and conveyed over to neck-cutting machines. The fact is, the USDA does not interpret the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to cover poultry. That means, in practice, that there is no federal requirement to slaughter the animals by methods that render them insensible to pain before they are killed.
P.S. If you or someone you know have purchased Perdue or Harvestland products containing the "Humanely Raised" label, we want to hear about it. Help us send a message to Perdue and others that consumers want more humane products, not a simple "humanewashing" of the status quo.
This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.
Follow Wayne Pacelle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waynepacelle