Two Costco shareholders have filed a lawsuit against the company for animal cruelty after reports revealed that the company-only member grocery store mistreated its chickens at its $450 million poultry processing plant in Freemont, Nebraska.
the lawsuit, submitted by shareholders Krystil Smith and Tyler Lobdell on a Seattle court in June, claims that “Costco is illegally neglecting and abandoning its chickens,” which in turn has violated its fiduciary duties. It also states that Costco’s executives had “consciously ignored obvious signs of Costco’s continued mistreatment of chickens”.
Costco opened its $450 million poultry processing plant in Nebraska in 2019. As part of the plan, the company hired local farmers to raise chickens and deliver them to the factory, where they are ready to be sold as the $4.99 Kirkland Signature Rotisserie Chickens.
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Known for their taste and low price, costcowho also has one outlet in chinasold Kirkland Signature rotisserie chickens since 2009. The members-only grocery store reportedly sold 106 million chickens at a loss last year to lure potential members and increase traffic.
In 2021, a under cover video filmed by Mercy for Animals revealed the inhumane conditions in which the chickens were housed, as tens of thousands of broilers were crammed into small warehouses where they lived for weeks in their own filth.
The video exposé prompted The New York Times to publish a opinion piece in February 2021, entitled “The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken”, about the living conditions of the chickens, which the company defended in a statement.
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†Costco Wholesale is committed to animal welfare in its supply chains,” the company wrote. “Although these chickens [broilers] life cycles of less than 45 days, their well-being is just as important as that of animals with a longer life cycle.”
The lawsuit and Mercy for Animals disclosure allege that Costco deliberately raised the broiler chickens unnaturally fast and large so that they could no longer stand on their own. It also claimed that the “disabled birds are slowly dying from starvation, injury and disease.”
†If Costco continues its illegal mishandling of chickens, it risks undermining its long-running and successful traffic-generating strategy,” the lawsuit said. “As more consumers learn about the mistreatment of Costco chickens, the benefits reaped from using loss-making rotisserie chickens to drive customer traffic and purchases…will disappear or decline sharply as consumer preference for no illegal or unethical to buy manufactured products, will trump the appeal of a ‘cheap’ chicken.”
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Speak with The Washington PostSmith, who has been a vegan for 15 years and studied animal law, said she felt “complicated” in the abuse after watching the Mercy for Animals video. She also explained that she has no special affinity for animals: “But I don’t think you need a special affinity for anything not to harm them, or certainly to defend the law.”
Although the Mercy for Animals investigation didn’t specifically name the Fremont complex, the video was filmed at one of the hundreds of farms Costco had contracted for its broiler chickens. The lawsuit notes that the supermarket chain and Lincoln Premium Poultry recruited 120 farmers to raise as many as 190,000 broilers every six weeks.
†Most of the individuals Costco hired to raise chickens had never raised chickens before they started working with Costco,” the lawsuit alleges. “As a result, Costco is responsible for training these farmers on how to raise chickens and care for animals, and for establishing the animal welfare standards these farmers follow.”
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Feature image via Mercy for Animals