Recently, Perdue Farms has petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with a proposal to redefine what qualifies as "pasture raised" for poultry. At a glance, this effort seems aimed at distinguishing pasture raised from free range, which is commendable. However, a closer examination reveals that the proposal may significantly lower the bar for pasture-raised standards to accommodate larger producers at the expense of genuine pasture-raised poultry farmers and informed consumer choice.
One of the key points in Perdue's proposal is allowing chickens to spend up to half of their lifespan in a brooder rather than on pasture. This provision clearly diverges from the traditional understanding of pasture-raised, where chickens are moved to pasture as soon as they are hardy enough to thrive outside. By doubling the amount of time chickens can spend indoors, Perdue's proposal dilutes the very essence of pasture-raised poultry farming.
Furthermore, Perdue Farms proposes that a pasture can consist of up to 50% non-vegetative coverage, which essentially means that the pasture can be half dirt. This is a stark departure from the lush, green fields consumers envision when they opt for pasture-raised products. It's a move that not only misleads consumers but also compromises the welfare and quality of life for the poultry.
Surprisingly, the American Grassfed Association ( AGA) seems to be on board with this redefinition. This endorsement is disheartening as it comes from an organization that should ideally be safeguarding the integrity of pasture-raised farming practices. Especially from food factory agriculture giants like Perdue Farms.
The timing of this proposal coincides with Perdue Farms venture into the pasture-raised chicken market, following their acquisition of Pasturebird Inc. This timing raises concerns that the proposed redefinition is tailored to suit Perdue's business model, rather than uphold the principles of pasture-raised poultry farming.
As a farmer who is dedicated to providing genuinely pasture-raised lamb and chicken, I find Perdue Farms' proposal to the USDA deeply concerning. It threatens to erode the hard-earned trust and the informed choice of consumers who are willing to pay a premium for high-welfare, pasture-raised poultry. It's crucial that the USDA, AGA, and all stakeholders maintain a high standard for pasture-raised certification that reflects the true ethos of pasture-raised farming, ensuring a level playing field for all farmers and an honest choice for consumers.