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!

  • 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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  • 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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  • futileresistance

    Perdue raises “Process Verified”, “Natural Chickens”… that’s effing hilarious. We live right in the belly of the CAFO, Franken-chicken beast here in olfactorally polluted Delmarva. Perdue, and the other corporate poultry pustules that own the local agriculture departments, State universities, and legislatures, treat their growers like absolute serfs, and the crap that they produce is complete garbage. Their chicken houses are all guarded by threatening signs, and often cameras and/or security personnel, warning people to KEEP OUT! Gee I wonder why. The few authentic pastured chicken producers around welcome visitors anytime, but Perdue, et al, will cite all kinds of goofy nuttiness about bio-terror security, and other imaginary bullshit to excuse their ridiculously sinister behavior. Growers are contractually forbidden to allow the media, or anyone else with a camera, to visit their growers’ chicken houses even though those growers are all sub-contractors who own their own land and the chicken houses that sit on them. Gee that’s just a little suspicious ain’t it? Perdue will of course quote some crap about protecting some kind of imaginary trade secret, but the only secret that they wish to conceal is the truth about life for a chicken in one of their animal concentration camps.
    In short… they lie every time their lips move.

    They now have GMO feed corn and soy beans that make their own antibiotics. Their latest nightmare thrust upon us.

    They also advertise that their chickens are raised “cage free”. Yeah, as if that meant anything at all. Meat birds have never really been caged. The imagery of the chicken in a cage so small that it couldn’t turn around is, was, and continues to be the truth of how laying hens are used by the industrial egg factories to supply eggs to the WalMarts and chain grocers of the world. The laying hens are penned up on a slanted wire floor that allows their eggs to just roll out onto a conveyor as fast as they squeeze them out. The birds are kept medicated to keep them alive in their unsanitary cramped quarters while they labor to keep producing eggs non-stop until they die, often after only 6-8 months if they last that long. The lights are kept on to keep them laying constantly, so the birds basically exhaust themselves and then die. The meat birds are a whole ‘nuther nugget.

    The meat birds never ever see the sun. They are delivered in closed containers from the hatchery and deposited into the long low chicken houses where they spend the next 6 weeks or so growing at a rate that is so exaggerated and fast that they often drop dead just trying to move. Jim Perdue and his ilk had their minions at the FDA/USDA okay a plan where they get to call their birds “Free Range” if they just poke one door in a 1,000′ long building and fence a 10’x10′ yard in for the chickens to “range” in… if they could even walk that far… which they basically can’t. Their bodies grow so fast they barely have the energy to do anything but eat the genetically mutant food that is all around them, and crap out the residue for the others to eat and stand in. They have no desire to go outside and chase bugs or forage in the grass because it’s too physically demanding for them to make the trip, and because they have all of the food they can stand right in front of them. Beyond that the houses are so crowded that they couldn’t find an open door unless they were lucky enough to be standing right next to it.

    The birds are packed into these houses by the tens and hundreds of thousands, so tightly that to look inside one you couldn’t guess what else might be on the floor. They have managed to automate everything to the point that the owners do little but hire an illegal to patrol the house every hour or so to pick up the dead. When the birds are big enough another group of illegals come to visit and chase the chickens down for loading into crates that are stacked onto a tractor trail;er for a midnight ride to the slaughter. The cages are open so come rain, winter freeze, you name it, they do get a little breath of freedom on their way down the road, even if they freeze and die of hypothermia along the way. They snatch the birds up at night because it’s easier to keep the lights down while catching plus there’s less exposure to the public as the open loads of pathetic looking soaking wet and freezing chickens travel through the local communities on their way to processing. It’s all about perception baby.

    They all still use the feces laden cold water tanks to chill their birds after killing (this allows the warm flesh to cool and shrink while absorbing the fecal matter from the ten thousand birds that were dunked there just before it. This of course has everything to do with why e.coli is now ubiquitous with processed industrialized meat. It also explains why your chicken has so much filthy water in it when you get it. Of course you pay for a pound of “chicken”, but what you actually receive is probably 15% fecal liquid, so at least Perdue is getting his money’s worth. The industrial pork and beef suppliers are no different. They are all on board with injecting or having your meat absorb as much liquid as possible, especially since they are selling you their crap by the pound. Their animals never move, graze, or forage, so of course their meat is tender… they have no muscle. Folks quit eating veal because they didn’t like the imagery of how such a pale, tender, piece of meat was created. Well guess what… your industrialized poultry, beef and pork ain’t no better.

    Real pasture raised beef, pork, and poultry will have a completely unique flavor and texture. It also doesn’t shrink one tenth as bad when cooked, so aside from having real flavor, the higher price that it commands is not really all that high when you consider…

    You get what you pay for with authentic pasture raised proteins. With corporate clowns you get whatever crap they think they can get away with, and folks… they can get away with almost anything that they want. That’s why they bought the politicians and populated the FDA/USDA in the first place. There’s a great graphic on the internet that shows how many industrial food corporate dogs and chemical company pirates we pay to run the USDA and our FDA. They and the legislatures serve only one function, and it ain’t to protect us or make sure our food is safe. No, they serve their real masters, the Super PACS that get them elected, and that money is spent to make certain that all laws and enforcement are focused on limiting market access (keeping independents’ frozen out by burying them in asinine regulatory swill), and protecting their monopolies. Like “W” said… mission accomplished… and Obama ain’t no better. They’re all the same, and they all dance to the same tune. Just look at the way they all line up to support crap like the Farm Bill and all of the industrial farming welfare, subsidies, and tax breaks.

    If your food isn’t coming from a producer who you can visit and feel good about what ya see, well you should probably be looking to make friends with a local small farmer. All of the crap that you hear about our gov’t supporting “family farms” is really only directed at the uber giant Cargill, Monsanto, Perdue, Tyson, and other minions of Gosher that are part of their system. Find a local, sustainable practices farmer and get in touch with that stuff we call food. It ain’t what gets passed to you through some corporate whore’s window.
    Somewhat off topic but have ya noticed that the industrial food that makes us all so sick is now creating even better opportunities for corporate America. Now that Bush’s Big Pharma give away, and Obama’s health care plan have kicked in we can all get in line at the new fixture on the American landscape… legal drug dispensaries with drive through windows! A coincidence… I think not. Here in our town they have two laqnes on some, just like McDonalds. Gotta “get your stattens for life and your anxiety meds right here!”

    It’s not coincidence that it is now easier to score tar heroin anywhere in America than it is to buy raw milk. The real crime is that you’ll probably do less time for getting caught with the former rather than the latter.

    Sorry for the rant. Just returned from a State required continuing education class where I was forced to sit through 6 hours of our State Ag Dept. telling me that organic methods are stupid because they won’t let us use all of these great herbicides like 2-4d and Round-Up (Agent Orange) or their nerve gas cousin pesticides. The state of food in our country is truly through the looking glass… but not to worry, the government has determined that you don’t need those pesky labels warning your stupid little heads of the Genetically Mutant Organisms within, it would only needlessly upset and worry you anyway. Back to sleep my little lamb. Nuthin’ to see here, just move along… 🙁