Consumers Allege Perdue's "Humane" Poultry Labels Are "False and Deceptive"

Have you ever wondered what labels like "humanely raised" and "cage free" mean when you're looking at a package of meat or eggs at the supermarket? Do corporations actually live up to the claims on the labels?

Well, a consumer class action lawsuit in New Jersey is trying to bring a little truth to labeling when it comes to the humane treatment of animals. The lawsuit alleges that Perdue Farms, Inc. has misled consumers by advertising its Harvestland brand of chickens as "humane." The suit was filed by two consumer members of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on behalf of a group of consumers. The case has been cleared to move forward by a federal court in New Jersey and will be heard later this year.

The case alleges that Perdue's labels violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). This is a powerful law to protect consumers from fraud in a number of areas. In 2011, for example, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the CFA applies to mortgage loans, including a lender's activities post-foreclosure-judgment, granting treble damages to the plaintiff in the foreclosure case Gonzalez v. Wilshire Credit Corp.

Lawsuit Claims Chickens Are Not Raised or Slaughtered Humanely

Perdue-owned Harvestland chicken on sale at a North Carolina Wal-Mart in Dec. 2010 (Original image: HSUS)The main thrust of the lawsuit is that, contrary to the claim that the birds are "humanely raised," during slaughtering, Harvestland's chickens are "shackled by their legs, upside-down, while fully conscious; electrically shocked before being effectively rendered unconscious; cut ineffectively or partially while fully conscious; drowned/scalded while conscious"; and that when they are being raised, they are "stored in trucks for hours under excessive temperatures; subject to lighting conditions which result in eye disorders; injured in the process of being removed from their shells; subject to health problems and deformities due to selective breeding; and provided no veterinary care."

One of the lead plaintiffs, Nadine Hemy, alleged that she would not have purchased the "premium-priced" chicken if she knew the chicken was "not in fact treated humanely," according to documents from the case.

Perdue's Harvestland brand of chickens are labeled prominently both as "humanely raised" and "USDA process verified." The suit alleges that this misleads consumers by implying that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has verified that the birds are raised humanely. In fact, there is no legal mandate that requires the USDA to ensure humane slaughter of birds in facilities used by Perdue or other commercial poultry processors because there are no official humane slaughter poultry regulations. Poultry falls outside the protections of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the law which applies to pork and beef, so there are no mandatory federal standards for the slaughter of poultry.

Inhumane Practices Allowed by Industry-Derived "Animal Welfare Guidelines"

The National Chicken Council (NCC) is the poultry industry trade group, which created voluntary "Animal Welfare Guidelines" for poultry processors. Perdue's "humane" claim is based on standards "not meaningfully different" from these industry-derived standards, according to HSUS. The plaintiffs allege that these standards "necessitate inhumane treatment" and foster non-compliance "huge loopholes" and a lack of independent monitoring and enforcement.

According to advocacy groups like the Animal Welfare Institute, the NCC's guidelines were industry-driven, included no input from animal welfare advocacy groups, and are completely insufficient to ensure humane treatment. Temple Grandin, who revolutionized livestock processing and slaughtering to try to make it more humane, calls the guidelines and scoring system "so lax that it allows plants or farms with really bad practices to pass."

Court Denies Perdue's Motion to Dismiss the Case

A federal court in New Jersey issued a decision on March 31, 2013 that denied all the arguments in Perdue's motion to dismiss the case clearing it to move forward, according to HSUS staff attorney Kate Levy. The HSUS is not a plaintiff in the case, but the two lead plaintiffs in the class are HSUS members, and they are represented by HSUS staff attorneys as well as Washington, DC law firm Tycko & Zavareei LLP and New Jersey attorney David M. Wacksman.

Levy told CMD that the plaintiffs have asked the court to enjoin Perdue from further use of the "humanely raised" label as well as for compensatory and punitive damages. "In response to growing consumer demand for humane treatment of animals," Levy said, "Perdue and others are attempting to maximize profits by making claims about humane treatment, but slapping a label on a package does not mean that livestock are being raised humanely."

This article has been updated to include a more nuanced description of the laws governing humane slaughter of livestock.


In fact, what's going on here is that Perdue is using a false claim of "humane treatment" in an attempt to create a premium brand with a premium price tag. The rest of your post is too irrational to bother replying to.

This is about false advertisement! As a consumer, you have to know that it is not acceptable to mis-label our food! As stated in the article, there is no board overseeing the slaughter of chickens, and this claim of " humanely" raised is no different from the way conventional chickens are raised. Perhaps it is the case that you are unaware if what that industry is actually like? Or maybe you are. I reccommend doing some research if you are uncertain. So before you get mad at people for calling attention to this fabrication,continue to eat what you want, but don't deny health conscious and humane individuals the right to know how their food is raised. That is a civil liberty as far as I am concerned!

Did you even read the article? This has nothing to do with veganism! My family and I all eat meat, but we have made a conscious decision only to buy meat from human farms (there are very few). Not regulating these labels makes it extremely difficult for families like mine to know if the meat they are consuming was indeed raised humanely. This labeling issue and the humane treatment of livestock is an issue more pertinent to meat eaters than it is to vegans.

Sad that you have so little respect for living creatures as well as human beings. This is simply about putting an end to fraud. This lawsuit is not about eliminating chicken. It's about deceptive advertising. Don't you mind being deceived?? It doesn't cost any more to label a product accurately. If you want to buy chickens that are treated like this... by all means, go right ahead. Do you really think it would cost that much more to slaughter these chickens humanely as opposed to torturing them? AND if it does cost more to raise them humanely, perhaps we can cut back on or beer and cigs and junk food and then we will be able afford healthy food.

I enjoy eating meat but I want to make sure that when a company labels a package "cage free" and "humanely treated" that they are being truthful. I pay more money for meat that I believe is treated as humanely possible. I have personally, eliminated eating pork (religious reasons) and beef (lack of cows being treated humanely) from my diet. Again, I'm not anti-meat and I don't believe this group is either. I don't know why you can't see the issue here. If a company decides to label their meat packages as "raised humanely" they better be telling the truth. Is it okay for a corporation to knowingly lie? And profit more money for their lies?

I try to keep Kosher and only buy Kosher meat. Without a car and few places near me selling it, I have a problem keeping a supply of Kosher Chicken. The supervised process of slaughtering and Koshering Chickens is supposed to be Humane and quick. I recently learned from my Orthodox congregation members, that any chicken, raised in any fashion, including Perdue, can be Kosher. As long as the slaughter is supervised by Rabbinical supervision and the Chicken is processed a certain way, to drain the blood. I am tired of worrying over PETA attacking Jewish Butchers, that follow there law, in butchering and processing cows, sheep, lamb, etc. This is supposed to be done in a humane fashion also. I usually opt for chicken when I prepare meat for myself. Perdue advertises a good quality feed for their chickens, and a clean environment while they are alive. I guess anyone can mistreat livestock even before slaughter. Slaughtering methods, but conventional non Kosher Companies, have no policy regarding supervision of the slaughter of animals used for human consumption. Address these issues please. I need to eat some meat.

Kosher slaughter, I always thought was humane by design. Quick slaughter with as little suffering to the animal as possible. I heard from another congregant at my Orthodox Synagogue, that it doesn't matter how any chicken is raised, as long as the slaughter is supervised and Rabbinical. I don't eat meat frequently. Possibly a weekly basis, but since health problems are showing my Iron is severely depleted, my consumption and enjoyment of beet products, broccoli, dark leafy greens and spinach is not enough. Once you eat meat, no dairy is consumed for several hours. I am not a vegan. I have resorted to buying and eating some Kosher chopped liver. I prefer chicken. Places that sell Kosher meat are not near by me and I don't drive. PETA has me burned up, because they have attacked in the media, Kosher butchers of Beef, Lamb, etc. This is also supervised to be humane as well as according to Jewish Law. Is PETA anti semetic or are they really concerned for animal rights. People need to be healthy and their freedom to practice their religion, I thought was part of our constitution.

I have to go through hoops and spend more money and time then I like to find Kosher Chicken. A congregation member of my Orthodox Synagogue, told me that chickens don't have to be raised any special way, treated any special way, as long as the slaughtering is done by Kosher law which is supposed to be quick and humane. This involves Kosher , and Rabbinic supervision, before any meat product is considered Kosher and OK for a religious Jew to consume. PETA, burned me up by attacking Beef,Lamb,or other read meat sources deemed fit to be Kosher. The methods include a quick slaughter and the meat is processed afterward to remove excess blood. Since Kosher meat is expensive and not provided in nearby markets, I don't buy large quantities. I often opt for chicken instead of Red Meat. I also am more of a vegetarian most of the week, but not a vegan. I have had a recent health problem that caused a serious enough depletion of Iron, and an off blood count reading, that I was advised to see a hematologist. Iron supplements can make my stomach rebel. I do like and prepare beets, dark greens and other vegetable forms that can help. I do probably need to add at least liver to my diet occasionally and may be other Red Meat. I don't think it's healthy to eat meat all the time, but I seem to need at least a certain amount of it.

After raising chickens for seven years, I've come to the conclusion that you can't raise and slaughter chickens in large quantities. To be happy, chickens need acres of grassland, brush and woodland to be happy. They need to be raised by mother hens. They are far more complex creatures than people think.

I realize your post is almost 2 years old, however if you do read this I have a question for you. I live in Lancaster, PA and have been looking into CSA's. I was so sadly surprised at the cost of things like chicken breast and whole fryers (albeit organic and humanely raised), my question is WHY so expensive? I want to be able to justify the cost and maybe if I understood what is involved in raising and feeding chickens the right way...too be happy as you put it, I could. Thanks.