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"Costco Exposed" campaign uses undercover video from local farm that supplies Fremont chicken plant

Posted at 6:40 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 19:42:08-05

LOS ANGELES (KMTV) — An animal rights organization released a new campaign targeting Costco chicken. It uses video it says is entirely from a local farm that supplies Lincoln Premium Poultry, which provides chickens to Costcos across the western states.

The video, released by Mercy for Animals, depicts chickens in "overcrowded, filthy warehouses." Its chief complaint is that the chickens appear to be a breed tailored to grow unnaturally fast, causing some to be unable to walk.

But both the animal rights group and the chicken plant agree that there is nothing unusual about the facility. Leah Garcés, president of the group, says the video depicts "standard practice" in industrial chicken agriculture. Jessica Kolterman, Lincoln Premium Poultry's spokesperson, said the video highlights the 4% to 5% of chickens that die and are composted, which she said is also the industry's average.

Garcés won't say which farm the video is from. There are about 100 in Nebraska and western Iowa, Kolterman said. Garcés said revealing the specific facility would detract from the point, and give the perception that they are blaming the farmers, not Costco.

"The farmers are not responsible in the sense that they are not dictating the type of breeds, they are not dictating the space, etcetera," she said. "They are all being dictated by Costco. Ultimately, we are asking people to hold Costco accountable."

Kolterman said she was surprised the video was obtained in secret. "We are a very transparent company," she said.

The Mercy for Animals campaign urges Costco to join its "Better Chicken Commitment," which requires companies meet Global Animal Partnership's minimum standards, among a few other things. Garcés says the only retailer that has joined is WholeFoods, but companies like Popeyes and Chipotle have as well.

In a statement to 3 News Now, Costco wouldn't say if they have considered making that pledge. But they did say "Costco and LPP will use the results of our audits as well as other sources of information, including this video, to make further improvements to our animal welfare processes."

"Costco is committed to maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare, humane processes and ethical conduct throughout the supply chain," it said in the statement. See the full statement at the bottom of this page.

Kolterman said that Lincoln Premium Poultry has an "extensive animal welfare team" including a veterinarian and an animal welfare officer. She said the farms supplying the plant face frequent unannounced audits.

Those audits look for things such as whether the barns are safe, birds are being fed and watered and dead chickens have been removed, she said. She said the animal welfare standards they use haven't been published. The breed of the chicken used is proprietary information, she said.

Garcés said she views Costco as having a "half open door" to welfare concerns. The company has made improvements to animal welfare in the past, she said, including a cage-free egg policy and controlled atmosphere stunning.

"On farm they have not," Garcés said, "and I feel they have so much potential and they do care and their customers care, so I'm very hopeful that they will move forward."

Lincoln Premium Poultry began operations in 2019.

Learn more: Costco poultry plant opens its doors to public, despite some backlash

Garcés said they've seen an "explosion" of public outcry since the video's release. "This is not what people think when they think of Costco chicken," she said.

Costco provided 3 News Now this statement on the Mercy for Animals campaign:

"Costco is committed to maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare, humane processes and ethical conduct throughout the supply chain. Lincoln Premium Poultry (LPP) shares our commitment, as do the independent growers selected for the program who have been carefully chosen based on our mutual business philosophies. Independent audits are regularly performed to ensure all parties are consistently in compliance.

Costco and LPP will use the results of our audits as well as other sources of information, including this video, to make further improvements to our animal welfare processes."

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