- Pilgrim's Pride has changed some claims about how it raises and handles chickens following a complaint filed Dec. 12 with the Federal Trade Commission by the Humane Society of the United States, according to Bloomberg. The group claimed the Colorado-based poultry producer, the second-largest in the U.S., relegates most of its chickens to filthy, dark barns, and some are scalded alive during slaughter.
- After previously stating on its website that its chickens are raised "with the highest standards," the revised website now states that the birds "are treated humanely and raised with care," Bloomberg reported. Other company statements the Humane Society cited in its complaint have either been removed or altered.
- But Pilgrim's Pride spokesman Cameron Bruett told Bloomberg the company's recent website changes had nothing to do with the Humane Society's complaint and had been in the pipeline for months. "Pilgrim’s is committed to the well-being of the poultry under our care," he said. "We welcome the opportunity to defend our approach to animal welfare against these false allegations."
While it's possible the Pilgrim's Pride website wording changes were already in the works, they occurred just 10 days after the Humane Society complaint was filed with the FTC. That means that there's also a chance the company is looking to head off similar complaints or potential legal action regarding its animal welfare practices.
And its parent company is accustomed to controversy. Since Pilgrim's Pride is majority owned by scandal-plagued Brazilian meatpacking company JBS, executives higher up in the parent company may be advising their U.S. colleagues to get ahead of the problem by cleaning up their public animal welfare statements — especially now the FTC complaint is in play.
But consumers might be confused by what this development could mean on the retail end, and that could hurt business. Are Pilgrim's Pride chickens treated "with the highest standards" or not? Do the wording changes mean that previous statements the company has made regarding animal welfare standards aren't true?
These are not superficial matters to consumers. Shoppers increasingly want to know how, where and under what conditions the meat products they buy were produced. A recent Packaged Facts survey showed that 58% of consumers are more concerned about the treatment of chickens, pigs and other food animals than they were a few years ago, so Pilgrim's Pride and other producers of animal-based products would be wise to pay attention to stay competitive.
Pilgrim's Pride CEO Bill Lovette has personally advocated for more transparency from food producers. At a 2017 Chicken Marketing Summit, he said that better and more transparent communications between big agriculture producers and consumers might help reduce some of the misconceptions shoppers have about how their poultry is produced.
With Lovette's transparency stance, it doesn't help for his company to be the subject of a FTC complaint — especially when consumers can make the choice to buy chicken certified as ethically raised and might even pay more for it.
The company has recently faced headwinds from the commodity markets, along with weaker prices for chicken. Its third quarter net sales fell 3.2% compared to the same quarter in 2017. But Lovette has said that prepared foods and the company's 2017 acquisition from JBS of Ireland-based Moy Park for $1.03 billion were brightening its revenue picture.
But this FTC complaint isn't the only negative publicity the company has seen in recent months. According to results posted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, 26% of Pilgrim's Pride slaughterhouses failed to meet federal salmonella standards for chicken parts from Oct. 29, 2017, to Oct. 27, 2018.
As more troublesome information comes out about animal welfare and pathogen problems, it's possible that consumers could increasingly see chicken as an unsafe choice and find other protein products to buy, which is the last thing Pilgrim's Pride or any of its competitors would want.