Fairmont, North Carolina chicken farmer Craig Watts watched Perdue corporation chairman Jim Perdue in a company promotional video a while back and was shocked by what he saw.
“Doing the right thing is things like treating your chickens humanely,” said Perdue in the video.
Watts, who raises over 700,000 chickens annually for the corporation, and has been a contract supplier for Perdue for 22 years, was fed up.
“My jaw just dropped,” he said. “It couldn’t get any further from the truth.”
So Watts did something remarkable. He invited an animal welfare group, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), and the press to visit his farm and take a closer look at the chickens he raises to see for themselves.
“It’s a hellish sight,” according to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, who wrote about Watts in his December 3, 2014 column.
CIWF spent months filming at Watts’ farm and on December 3 posted the resulting video on YouTube.
Watts was asked by CIWF’s Leah Garces on camera, “Why were you open to letting me visit?”
Watts replied that he took the unheard of step of opening his operation up to the press because “I’m open to anything, because this stuff is not as advertised. There’s a lot of flaws in the system. The consumer’s being hoodwinked. The farmer’s being jerked around.”
He continued, “I can’t speak for a chicken. All I can say is what I observe, and um..no, they’re not happy and they’re definitely not healthy.”
Over the course of six weeks, in a house of thirty thousand chickens, it’s considered normal for more than 1,000 birds to die in every flock due to illness, genetic problems, or other issues, including injuries. Craig has no control over the health or genetics of the chicks that are delivered to him by Purdue. Bound by contract, Craig is not even allowed to give them sunshine or fresh air. Just thirty seven days later, they are a sea of panting birds. Panting indicates birds are overheated. These birds find it too painful to bear the weight of their unnaturally large breasts on their legs, and spend the majority of their time squatting. Their heart and lungs are also physiologically taxed, overburdened by servicing their disproportionately large chests. – Narrator from the CIWF video, Chicken Factory Farmer Speaks Out
According to the Times’ Kristoff, “Most shocking is that the bellies of nearly all the chickens have lost their feathers and are raw, angry, red flesh. The entire underside of almost every chicken is a huge, continuous bedsore. As a farmboy who raised small flocks of chickens and geese, I never saw anything like that.”
Time will tell if Watt’s unusual effort to improve contract conditions for raising Purdue chickens will yield positive results. The corporation’s initial response to the video’s release was not promising – within hours after Kristoff’s column appeared, Watts was visited by Purdue representatives conducting an “animal welfare audit” of the farm, its first in 22 years.
Visit Compassion in World Farming’s website for more information. This story has gained widespread traction in the media appearing in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Mother Jones and more. See the CIWF’s page on media treatment of this story here.