by Marion Nestle
Jun 27 2011

Perdue’s chickens: “USDA Process-Verified”?

When New York Times reporter Stuart Elliott called to ask about the USDA’s process verification for Perdue chickens, I had to confess that I had never heard of it.


I had no idea that USDA sponsored a program to certify poultry producers’ claims like Perdue’s:

  • All Vegetarian Diet
  • No Animal By-Products
  • Humanely Raised 1/
  • Raised Cage Free
  • Tenderness Guaranteed 2/(I discuss the footnotes below)

The USDA does indeed have a process verification program.

This  is not, as you might expect, an inspection program to make sure that food producers are doing what they claim.  No, USDA’s Process Verification is a marketing program that allows producers to make claims and create certification logos.

As I discussed in the egg chapters in What to Eat, process verification is very much in the eye of the beholder.  Most egg—and broiler—process verification programs certify that the chickens are fed and sheltered.  How, is quite another matter.

Perdue’s claims are marketing hype because broilers are pretty much always fed grain, are not routinely fed animal by-products, and  are not raised in cages.  The claims say nothing about antibiotics so you have to assume these chickens are treated with antibiotics to promote growth and prevent infection under crowded conditions.* see correction below

And now the footnotes:

*1/ Humanely Raised Program claim is in accordance with Perdue’s Best Practices, which include:

  • Education, training, and planning
  • Hatchery Operations
  • Proper Nutrition and Feeding
  • Appropriate Comfort and Shelter
  • Health Care
  • Normal Patterns of Behavior
  • On-Farm Best Practices
  • Catching and Transportation
  • Processing

*Based on the principles outlined in Official Listing of Approved USDA Process Verified Programs Company Claims Verified Program Scope Verification Information in the National Chicken Council’s Animal Welfare Guidelines to ensure the proper care, management, and handling of broiler chickens.

2/ Tenderness is Guaranteed through the implementation and verification of Perdue’s “Tenderness Best Practices”.

The guidelines require careful reading.  “Humanely raised” by Perdue’s criteria might not be what you mean by the term.

This campaign is not about safety, health, or humane treatment.  It is about marketing.

As I explained to Stuart Elliott, it’s hard not to be sarcastic about this sort of thing.  And to wonder why the USDA needs to do this.

*Correction July 5, 2011:  An official of Perdue points out that many chicken producers feed animal by-products to the birds but his company decided not to do that some time ago because it could not verify what went into the by-products.  He also points out that the company cannot claim that the birds are raised without antibiotics because they have to use a particular kind of antibiotic—not one used in humans—to deal with coccidiosis.   Perdue, he explains, is a family-owned company trying hard to do this right (family-owned companies are not subject to Wall Street pressures to grow profits every 90 days).  I haven’t visited a Perdue farm so I have no first-hand experience, but I’m inclined to take what he told me at face value.


  • Charlie L

    If Perdue really wanted to be more transparent about their chickens, they’d go Hollywood with a new reality TV show called “The REAL Chickens of Perdue.”

  • USconsumer

    No food is proven affordable, safe and sensible until Marion Nestle affixes the vaunted “NYU Process Vilified” label. Anything else is just politically correct elitist frumpery.

    A cheap shot from Marion & her food police is the best possible recommendation – go Perdue!

  • Joe Forsthoffer

    Perdue Farms wants to share the following facts in response to Marion Nestle’s comments regarding our new campaign to the New York Times and online.

    The vast majority of commercially raised chickens (over 90%) are fed diets that include animal by-products. Perdue is the first and only company with a USDA process verified program for our all-vegetarian, no-animal by-products diet.

    Through our own research we learned that over two-thirds of Perdue consumers don’t know how our chickens are raised and/or believe our chickens are raised in cages. We know this is concern for our consumers and wanted to ensure that all Perdue consumers know how we raise and treat our chickens.

    Perdue does not use antibiotics for growth promotion and, as a result of raising our chickens in a healthy environment; we do not rely on the continuous use of antibiotics to keep them healthy. For more information, visit

    Our poultry welfare program exceeds industry standards, including those of the National Chicken Council, and includes mandatory training, auditing of our producers farms by Perdue and the USDA, monitoring of air quality in poultry houses and bird comfort in receiving and processing areas, and video monitoring of processing areas handling live poultry. To learn more about our poultry welfare program, visit:

    The USDA Process Verified program does verify our claims through extensive and ongoing documentation and auditing. We spent more than two years working with USDA to develop our programs.

    Our “Tenderness Guarantee” includes both proprietary processes ongoing quantitative monitoring of breast meat tenderness to statistically ensure that a consumer’s chance of getting a tough piece of PERDUE® chicken are less than .0001 percent.

    –Joe Forsthoffer, Corporate Communications Manager, Perdue Farms

  • Fred BelAir

    Au contraire my friend, if you go through life trusting everything corporations tell you is good you’ll be in big trouble.

    Here’s a vote for Ms Nestle’s shining some much-needed light on the highly deceptive marketing practices (which, sadly, seems to be ALL of them) of America’s food agrifood corporations.

    Anyone who thinks that Ms Nestle delivers cheap shots is clearly an employee of one of those agrifood businesses that wants to cash in through pulling the wool over our eyes.

    Read Ms Nestle’s book “What to eat” and reveal your employer, and then we can have a discussion.

  • Subvert

    Make sure to always feed the best to your consumers: 100% certified BS. For a real treat, super-size it with a side of confusing marketing spin, seasoned to perfection with just the right blend of deceit.

  • USconsumer

    Referring to NYU’s tenured hacks, right Subvert?

  • Anthro

    US Consumer

    You keep changing your screen name, but you are a troll nonetheless.

    My backyard chickens eat grain–BUT, they also eat MEAT–that is, they eat the worms and other bugs that they find in my backyard area. I rotate their “pecking area” every other week or so, so that they can always find some new “meat”. Now, this is not to say that I think poultry “producers” should feed “animal by products
    to chickens; no, I am recommending that anyone who possibly can, get three or four chickens and enjoy the endless entertainment and eggs that they provide.

    I am getting sick of the people who pop in here to denigrate public health initiatives and call Marion all sorts of names. If you have a suggestion that pertains to the subject, fine–but otherwise I wish you’d take your Big Food Marketing nonsense, put it in the shape of a five-point star, and put it where the moon don’t shine.

  • Suzanne

    Go Anthro! And as for you, Doc_Mudd, and your Sybil personalities of USconsumer and Sebastian/Sebastion Goodsense, I wish you’d take your distractions to learning and negativity elsewhere.

    You can tell what a threat Dr. Nestle is to the bottom line of Big Food by the escalating rancor – she educates people to question their food choices and resist marketing strategies.

  • Linda Duffy

    Since chickens are not naturally vegetarian, I consider any producer that proudly proclaims they are feeding their animals biologically inappropriate feed to be either cruel or incompetent.

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  • Katje Cleary-James

    Corn fed still means GMO foods…which are not kind to animals as well ….so thus said for me and mine…I still look for local farmers selling pastured chicken…grrrr to the rest

  • Lee P.

    Equating organic food with chicken marketing is a load of horse s***. This is, however, the sort of thing that happily ignorant armchair warriors like, to align themselves via specious words with large corporations and thus feel good about themselves.

    Meanwhile, people like Marion continue to provide information to the public, to remind people to think about their food, and to not just accept whatever it is that’s printed in big, shiny letters on the even shinier packages.

    So it comes down to two kinds of messages from many posters here: “everything is either a lie or a conspiracy” or “think for yourself and make the best decision for yourself.” The latter seems wiser to me. :-)

  • kelley ahearn


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  • Gary Mickelson, Tyson Foods

    Dr. Nestle is correct that Perdue’s claims are marketing hype. The process verified label is confusing to consumers because it implies that Perdue’s practices are more humane than other producers and that other producers raise broilers in cages. Neither of those claims are true. Tyson filed a petition, supported by consumer survey research, requesting that USDA revoke that label. The petition can be found at:

    Unfortunately, USDA is unwilling to reconsider the merit of these label claims.

    – Gary Mickelson, Director of Public Relations, Tyson Foods, Inc.

  • mmm

    They use GMO feed on chickens that are made for human consumption not animal consumption! YUCK! never buying PERDUE again!

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