Poultry processor Perdue Foods says it is taking steps to renew a focus on animal welfare, announcing the Perdue Commitments to Animal Care. The new four-part plan sets future goals for the company while instituting third-party audits and mandating an annual report announcing the progress made towards specific initiatives.

Perdue Chairman Jim Perdue says the plan will accelerate the company’s progress in animal care, strengthen relationships with farmers, build trust with multiple stakeholder groups and create an animal care culture for continued improvement.

Titled 2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care, the plan was developed with input from stakeholders such as farmers, academics and leaders of animal advocate organizations who were invited by Perdue to help shape this progressive animal care plan that sets new industry standards.

“As we continue to learn about innovative and better ways to raise animals through our No Antibiotics Ever journey and our experience in raising organic chickens, we are adopting a four-part plan which will result in changing how we raise chickens,” Perdue says. “Transparency is very important to Perdue consumers, who are interested knowing how we raise, care for and harvest our chickens. Our vision is to be the most trusted name in food and agricultural products and animal care is a big part of that journey.”

The four-part plan commits to:

-The wants and needs of the animals: Based on The Five Freedoms, an internationally recognized standard for animal husbandry, Perdue’s commitment document lays out where the company is today on each of the five aspects as well as future goals. For instance, the majority of chickens today are raised in fully enclosed barns without natural light.  Perdue is committed to retrofitting 200 chicken houses with windows by the end of 2016 to compare bird health and activity to enclosed housing.  

-The farmers that raise the chickens: Appreciating that chickens spend most of their time in the care of farmers, the plan stresses improved relationships with farmers.  This includes creating an open dialogue about best practices in animal care, considering the farmer’s well-being and connecting animal care to pay and incentives.

-Openness, transparency and trust: The plan also calls for Perdue to be open to criticism of its current policies and procedures when deserved, share information about animal care initiatives, and proactively engage with a wide variety of animal welfare stakeholders, including advocates, academics and animal care experts.

-A journey of continuous improvement: The fourth part of the plan commits to ongoing learning and advancements in the company’s animal care programs to ensure the health and well-being of its birds through next-generation initiatives. This commitment will be driven by Perdue’s active Animal Care Council, which has been in place for more than 15 years. 

Animal rights advocacy group Mercy For Animals praised the new initiatives, specifically Perdue’s commitments to using natural light, addressing rapid growth rates, curbing abuse and eliminating live-shackle slaughter.

 “With this announcement, it's never been clearer that the days are numbered for many of the industry's cruelest practices, including breeding birds to grow so fast they're in constant pain and subjecting birds to a terrifying and torturous slaughter process,” says Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals.