(UPC editor's note: the following excerpt was distilled and slightly edited from Jeffrey L. Reynolds' full-page article, "Perdue chickens out," Long Island Voice, Aug. 14-20, 1997.)
When the Long Island Voice asked what was behind a recent Perdue ad, Perdue spokesman Richard Auletta said, 'There's a lot of misinformation out there and we felt it was appropriate to try to set the record straight.'
"That's exactly what Julie Beckham of Alexandria, Va., had in mind when she heard the Perdue ads on her local radio in May. A member of United Poultry Concerns – an advocacy group targeting the poultry industry – she wrote to Perdue and asked for a complete list of the food fed to the 42 million pounds of chickens that leave Perdue plants each week. She got back a form letter listing corn meal, soybean meal and marigold extract as the birds' 'completely natural-ingredient diet,' along with a few vitamins and minerals.
"Unsatisfied, Beckham called Perdue's Consumer Line on June 18 and asked for a more complete breakdown of the chickens' diet; this time, she asked specifically about antibiotics. A consumer-service rep named Lorraine said that the birds are given up to four types of preventative antibiotics, 'much like the vaccination of a child'--the exact phrase Lorraine and another rep named Nicole used when contacted Aug. 11 by a Long Island Voice reporter. . . . Perdue said that someone would get back to Beckham regarding the rest of the information she requested ['Let me narrow down my areas of concern for you so that only a yes or no response is necessary. Do you feed any of the following items to Perdue chickens? Antibiotics? Chicken parts of any kind? Any other animal parts? Any excretory material in any form?' Beckham, letter to Perdue].
"And they did. In a July 8 letter, Perdue wrote in part, 'Please understand that the exact composition of our diet is propriety information and its entirety is not disclosed publicly. Rest assured, however, that our birds are fed an all-natural diet free of contaminants, pesticides and hormones.' [UPC ed. note: if this were so Perdue could advertise their birds as 'organic,' which they don't.]
"Dr. Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns and author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, says that a hormone-free diet is nothing to brag about: 'The federal Food and Drug Administration prohibits [i.e. has not approved – UPC ed. note] the use of hormones in commercial chickens. She also points out that there are few guidelines for use of the term 'natural.' Indeed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says only that meat and poultry labeled as 'natural' should 'not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient or chemical preservative . . . and the product and its ingredients [should not be] more than minimally processed.' Just try finding a chicken these days that doesn't come with a 'natural' claim. . . .
"Auletta got . . . defensive and tried to terminate this interview [with the Long Island Voice] when asked to comment on Beckham's frustrated attempts to get more specific information about the Perdue diet. 'It's not something we want our competitors to know,' he snapped. Beckham sent out another letter on July 15 clarifying her interest as a consumer, rather than a competitor. She's still waiting for an answer, and it's probably safe to say that she'd agree with Jim Perdue's assertion that 'important information about the chicken you may be eating has not been made public.'"
What Can I Do?
- You can contact Perdue Farms Incorporated, Customer Relations Department, PO Box 740, Spring House, PA 19477, ph: 1-800-473-7383.