The department's "process verification" program for poultry companies sounds like quality control—but it's really just marketing
When New York Times reporter Stuart Elliott called to ask about the U.S. Department of Agriculture'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*
- Raised Cage Free
- Tenderness Guaranteed* (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. But how they are fed and sheltered 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.