The following article in today’s edition of The Washington Post concludes
with a quotation by UPC President Karen Davis concerning the forced
rapid growth of chickens and turkeys and plans by the US Department
of Agriculture to reclassify chickens and turkeys to reflect the
inhumane practice of forcing these birds to grow too fast for their
hearts, lungs, and bones to accommodate the growth rate.
Information on submitting a letter to the editor
can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/q0b8
The Federal Register notice on poultry categories can be found
OLD RULES ON POULTRY CATEGORIES MAY FLY THE COOP
The Washington Post, Cindy Skrzycki, October 7, 2003
These are not your grandmother's birds. Thirty years ago, life
in the coop lasted longer and pedigrees mattered. A broiler under
13 weeks of age was known as a young chicken. A roaster was slightly
older, three to five months. The parents of a Rock Cornish game
hen were a purebred Cornish and a purebred Plymouth Rock. A young
turkey was eight months if a day.
Poultry now comes to market fatter and faster, because of
crossbreeding, controlled indoor growing conditions, and rations
that are mixed to produce the big, meaty chickens that become the
boneless breasts and chicken nuggets that Americans love. It
now takes a mere six to seven weeks to "grow out" a broiler
from chick to "processing"; roasters are ready for the
oven in 10 to 12 weeks.
Regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who are
responsible for truth in labeling of poultry and other commodities,
have noted the revolution in chicken-house operations run by large
processors such as Tyson and Perdue. So after a couple
of years of study, the department proposed updating the
classifications for several kinds of poultry classifications,
lowering the age for what defines Cornish game hens, broilers, roasters,
capons, and fryer-roaster and young turkeys. The old classes, or
"standards of identity," of these birds were based on
much longer estimates of their maturity.
The proposal reflects what the $40 billion-a-year chicken
industry knows: Young is better. The young birds, the USDA
notes, have tender meat and smooth skin. They can be broiled, barbecued,
roasted or fried. They can do it all, as opposed to the hen, fowl,
baking chicken or stewing chicken that would be classified as an
"adult female more than 10 months of age with meat less tender
than that of a roaster or roasting chicken and a nonflexible breastbone
tip." They take time to make tasty.
Young, fat birds also fetch more in the grocery store.
Some chickens that would have been sold as broilers may, under the
proposed rule, sneak into the roaster category, which generally
means 8 to 13 cents more per pound. Getting out their calculators,
USDA regulators figure that would be a 40-to-65-cent increase in
the price of a five-pound bird. The cost effect "should be
minimized," however, the regulators figure, since those birds
"most likely are already being marketed as roasters."
Revising the standards would have some effect on large-volume
customers, including the federal government. Another part of the
Agriculture Department, the Agriculture Marketing Service, bought
$207 million worth of poultry in fiscal 2002 for federal nutrition
programs, including the school lunch program. Craig Morris,
associate deputy administrator for poultry programs at the marketing
service, said a rule change would ensure that buyers get what they
pay for, since the classes are used for price specifications.
The classifications also are the basis of the quality grades
the USDA assigns to poultry.
To regulators, the rule is simply a case of the label catching
up to market practices. "More than likely, the products
on the market and their labels aren't based on current industry
standards," said Robert Post, director of the labeling and
consumer protection staff at Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection
Service, which issued the proposal. "We need to ensure the
label is accurate. Rules could now allow for a broiler under 13
weeks. We enforce the industry standard, so we need to change our
regulations. We are assuring that consumers who pick up a broiler
anywhere in the United States, or an import, have age and distinguishing
features that are the same."
While they were at it, regulators also cleaned out the cobwebs
of some of the more obscure classifications for guineas, geese and
ducks. They suggested that a Rock Cornish game
hen be simply a chicken less than five weeks of age, of
either sex, weighing less than five pounds, since there are no more
purebred Cornish or Rock lines. They asked the industry
to comment on a proposal to throw out age as a basis of classifying
poultry. Instead, weight would be used. For example, a
roaster would be five pounds no matter how old it was. And while
the proposal is silent on what a silly old goose might be, it did
offer a not totally appetizing definition of an old goose,
as an adult of either sex "that has toughened flesh and a hardened
There isn't likely to be much opposition from industry groups,
which have been working on speed and size since the 1950s.
"Age is not important. It's getting the size of the bird you
want and selling it at that time," said Richard Lobb, spokesman
for the National Chicken Council, which represents
chicken producers and processors. "But if they want to have
these rules, it's fine with us. They follow industry categories."
Similarly, Alice Johnson, president of the National Turkey
Federation, said the proposal reflects "improved genetics
and husbandry practices": The turkey industry now can
produce a 12-to-14-pounder in six months. [For more information
on the turkey industry, see: http://www.eatturkey.com
especially the "About Turkey" section on the Pressroom
page.] Tita Cherrier, a spokeswoman for Perdue, said the changes
wouldn't affect the company because its roasters already are fully
grown at eight weeks.
Animal rights groups, however, see the proposal as a USDA
stamp of approval on industry practices that they oppose. "We're
concerned about the well-being of birds, and we don't support raising
five-to-six-pound birds in five to six weeks. To the extent the
regulations validate, aid or abet the forced rapid growth of birds,
we don't support that," said Karen Davis, president of United
Poultry Concerns in Machipongo, Va.
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. http://www.upc-online.org
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150