There is no admittance at Craig Watts' Perdue contract chicken farm in Fairmont, North Carolina. Nor is Watts allowed to open the barns to admit air or sunlight. But, fed up with the abuse to farmers, consumers and animals he has tolerated for too long, Watts allowed cameras into his barns so the public could see what Perdue calls "humane." It is "not as advertised" says Watts, an understatement.
There is such a gap between Perdue's slick marketing and the reality, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof devoted a whole column today to the video, released this morning by Compassion in World Farming, a 47-year-old international group.
Many people have seen undercover footage of modern chicken farming which the big chicken brands always claim is inaccurate, staged and not representative of true operations. This is possibly the first time a legitimate video from an authorized Perdue producer has surfaced and can't be readily dismissed. The video not only indicts Perdue who is clearly marketing sick and dying chickens to the public, it indicts the government which inexplicably allows Perdue to call its birds USDA Process-Verified and "humanely raised."
Who is Craig Watts? He is a 48-year-old chicken farmer who had his fill of the human and animal conditions Perdue permits, Leah Garces, US Director of Compassion in World Farming, told me in an interview. Farmers like Watts are close to "indentured servants," says Garces, 71 percent of them living at the poverty level. Watts, who has three children and is married to a school teacher, procured his $400,000 a year contract only to end up making a minimum wage. He has no control over the health of the birds he receives from Perdue or the way he is required to treat and raise them. His "take" as a Perdue contact farmer is 5 cents a pound per bird.
And it gets worse. Working in the sealed and packed chicken barns with their high concentrations of ammonia has compromised his lungs and given him respiratory problems, says Garces. Besides Watts, there is only one worker caring for the entire flock of 120,000 chickens, housed 30,000 to a barn on the North Carolina Perdue operation.
Over the months Garces worked with Watts, she says they became unlikely friends because both would like to give chickens "a better life" and both are appalled at Perdue's large-scale deception. Perdue birds, bound for the dinner table, are shown in the video to have raw, bloody stomachs because their legs are too weak to support them and they wallow in the fetid litter. They are panting, barely able to breathe and clearly suffering as Watts admits. They are nobody's idea of a good meal, a healthy animal or humane farming.
Will Watts lose his contract with Perdue after speaking out? Possibly says Garces but he may become a leader among poultry farmers no longer willing to tolerate the human, animal and food consumer abuse that is today's modern chicken farming. "We are past rewind," says Watts about current chicken production "this has gone too far."