- Costco is facing consumer backlash after animal rights group Mercy for Animals released an undercover video filmed of a farm that supplies Lincoln Premium Poultry (LPP) plant, Costco's in-house poultry facility.
- Criticism of the retailer, including from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, cites footage of chickens in cramped and dimly lit sheds, carcasses discarded on the facility grounds and birds with obvious, untreated injuries.
- Mercy for Animals President Leah Garcés is calling on Costco to join the Better Chicken Commitment, which sets ethical standards for poultry raising and processing and has been signed by more than 200 food retailers, including numerous QSRs. In December, Whole Foods became the first major U.S. national grocer to sign the commitment.
In response to Kristof’s opinion piece on the video of the Costco-owned chicken supplier’s conditions, Costco General Counsel John Sullivan said that the video depicted “normal and uneventful activity” at a processing plant.
But in a statement issued to Grocery Dive, Costco said it will review the results of Mercy for Animals' investigation and determine any next steps. The retailers said it along with LPP maintain "the highest standards of animal welfare," and that poultry growers are regularly audited for compliance with these standards.
"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 said.
Sullivan said that efforts were already underway by the retailer to develop a "more proportionate build" of Costco chickens, since a disproportionate emphasis on having the chickens develop large breasts sometimes cause the birds' legs to thrust out or collapse. In December, Costco announced that it would transition to cage-free eggs in its global egg supply chain over time, but the retailer has yet to set a deadline for the move.
Costco opened its poultry facility in 2019 in order to save as much as 35 cents per bird on processing costs. That helps the company keep the price of its popular rotisserie chickens at $4.99 — a price that hasn't budged in more than ten years. The LPP facility in Nebraska can process an estimated 100 million birds per year, including one-third of Costco’s rotisserie chickens.
The Better Chicken Commitment, which counts numerous restaurant signatories but just one grocer, requires companies to limit animal density; provide litter, lighting and other "enrichment qualities"; submit to a third-party audit; move away from using rapid-growth chicken breeds; and phase out the practice of live-shackle slaughter.
Correction: A previous version of the story misstated the location where Mercy for Animals filmed the undercover video. The conditions were filmed at a farm that supplies LPP.