Grappling with Ethics: Poultry From Markets to Our Table

I love New Seasons Market in Portland.  They carry affordable organic foods in the heart of the city, and their intention aligns with ours.  The staff is great, friendly, and often knowledgable.  We discovered them when we moved to Portland and they are our main shopping experience year-round.

Our dilemma arose in their meat department, when they changed their mainstay non-organic chickens to Draper Valley Farms.

We can’t always afford organic chickens, but we are adamant about one thing: we want the birds to be raised and dispatched humanely.

We also want them fed GMO-free feed.  The latter is a goal we cannot make at this time unless we buy organic, which we can’t always afford.

When we began buying Draper Valley chickens and found that 3/4 of the legs were broken and bruised, we were surprised.  Occasionally a broken leg or wing happens in all chickens, even those dispatched under the best of corcumstances, which is one ht farm buy a certified handler.  Bruising tells us that the break happened while the bird was alive, not during plucking or packaging.  Thigh joints, wing joints, leg joints or “ankles” — almost every chicken had at least one break.  I was pretty sure that Draper Valley was not meeting our standards for humane, which also includes humane dispatching.

Also, we have been under the impression, because of New Seasons general advertising and ethics, that their chickens were meeting these requirements.  So I went onto New Seasons’ website, and they state “We’re partners with Food Alliance because their strict standards are aligned with our own. Our partnership with Food Alliance guarantees that your pork and beef are raised by farmers with the highest standards for environmental stewardship, humane animal care and safe and fair working conditions.”

Argh!  Chicken is not on the list!  We assumed that chickens would meet these same standards.  Organic is not an assumption, but when you are standing at the meat counter with the words bandied about as to “humane” and “our policy,” how many of us stop the butcher and say, “EXACTLY how is this chicken killed?”

But we did.

I tried to find out about Draper Valley through their website (woefully cheery and KFC-ish and lacking in actual  information) and left a message with the person to discuss their kill practices, but so far, no return call.

I could not find anyone who wasn’t a vegan that had written about the Draper Valley slaughter houses, and the problem is, the vegans have a definite slant: Stop Eating Meat.

VEGGIE-TARIAN?

We have stopped eating meat.  Twice, and made sure that we had a varied balanced diet.  The longest time for me was two years.  I found out I was allergic to soy, was always hungry, gained weight, and had arthritis problems due to diet.

After that, I looked at how my grandparents ate, and realized that proportionately, they ate a small amount of meat to veggies/fruit/and starches.  My grandfather never ate two pork chops and his steak portions was in the 6oz zone with a good amount of veggies on his plate.  Breakfast was his most unhealthy meal by our standard: he had two slices of bacon, two farm-fresh eggs most mornings, and lived to his 90’s, healthy.

Mitchell and I took this as a clue to healthy living, and eat meat that meets our standards and eat a smaller proportion.  A chicken lasts us through at least four meals, sometimes six, and we eat 5 in a two week period.  Roast chicken one night, then burritos/quiches/sandwiches, and finally, the bones go into stock.

We can’t always afford organic chickens, and apparently certified organic is the only way to know what you are buying short of meeting the farmer and going for a tour.  (That is not quite true, and I will have some good local links in my next post.)  Knowing we were not going vegan, we had to figure out a strategy.

BACK TO NEW SEASONS

We spoke to New Seasons’ Meat Director, Alan Hummel, to see if he could assure us there would be a change coming.  He was looking into the bruising and broken bones, but so far no one else had complained.  (He did not say this in a sarcastic manner, like “Lady, I don’t believe you.”  He seemed sincere in his interest.) I countered that possibly other people didn’t know what that meant, or didn’t talk to him, but to the butcher on the floor, and possibly the butchers didn’t tell them what was being said.  He did say that New Seasons had to find a farmer that could manage to meet the demand for 40,000 birds/week and meet their ethics, but could not.  That is a lot of chickens.

Alan makes surprise visits to Draper, meaning he doesn’t just take their word that they are nice people.  The problem as I see it (and this is not what Alan said) is they can’t find a way to run their store YET and meet the same humane kill standards as they apparently do with beef and pork.  (By the way, on the Pork, no one knows about how Beellers dispatches.  If I were you, I would stick with the New Seasons Oregon/Washington Pork.)

Draper Valley in Washington State trucks their chickens 4 hours (four hours in metal cages in poor weather, blown, loud truck and highway sounds, heat, and not happy).  I wanted to know what separated them from Foster Farms, and it seems that it has to do with their living condition before slaughter (better), and the number of birds killed per week (meaning, as I see it, that they just are not big yet.)

Alan and others at New Seasons are going to follow up, and when they do, I will write a follow up.  Meanwhile, the only chickens I will buy from New Seasons are Kookoolan, which are seasonal, killed onsite, and delivered once a week.  Their other organic chickens are Draper Valley, same kill practices.

MOVING ON

I regretfully had to say then we had to move on.  But to where?  Food Front Cooperative Grocery, of which we are members, sells Draper Valley’s Ranger chickens.  Not much better,  still killed in a violent death many hours from site.

No meat market I have found sells humanely dispatched chickens (or meat for that matter.)

On the Food Alliance website it states the following:

“Food Alliance Certified Products:

  • Grown by a Food Alliance Certified producer
  • Packed and/or prepared by a Food Alliance certified handler
  • No genetically modified crops or livestock
  • No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
  • Healthy and humane care for livestock with no growth promotants or sub-therapeutic antibiotics
  • Verified supply chain traceability”

But few chicken farmers have met their standards, and their standards don’t quite match ours.

I spoke with Food Alliance about the GMO issue, and they said that the only way to ensure non-GMO corn and soy feed is to eat organic, and organic feed is cost prohibitive at this time.

I am now finding other ways to eat sustainable, non-GMO (if possible), humanely raised and dispatched poultry.  We are testing the market.  More in our next installment.

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About dkatiepowellart

hollywood baby turned beach gurl turned steel&glass city gurl turned cowgurl turned herb gurl turned green city gurl. . . artist writer photographer. . . cat lover but misses our big dogs, gone to heaven. . . buddhist and interested in the study of spiritual traditions. . . foodie, organic, lover of all things mik, partner in conservation business mpfconservation, consummate blogger, making a dream happen, insomniac who is either reading buddhist teachings or not-so-bloody mysteries or autobio journal thangs early in the morning when i can't sleep
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24 Responses to Grappling with Ethics: Poultry From Markets to Our Table

  1. Hi, Kat–

    Yours was the most detailed discussion I could find when researching the actually living and dying conditions of chickens from Draper Valley Farms. Did you ever find a source for humanely-raised and humanely “dispatched” chickens? (I’m writing from Whidbey Island, Washington. Close to some of the Draper Valley farms. I’m about a 4 hour drive from Portland, but am guessing we’d have access to a lot of the same brands.) I’m looking both for our family, and for our dogs, who are on an all-raw diet.

    Thanks,
    Leslie

    • zenkatwrites says:

      Thank you. I had a hard time as Draper would never return any of my phone calls. On the other hand, I know as a business person, that if I have nothing to hide I will discuss things, or at least tell people why I cannot answer their questions. They just didn’t return calls, and i am very good at finding out who to talk to and left messages with those people —

      I have found sources locally for humanely raised meat, and i doubt if we will ever have the same sources — You need to find a smaller farm. I did a thorough search in my state and in lower Washington through google, and found Deck Family Farms (in the middle of the state) and other local organic farms on some excellent sites: Eat Wild (http://www.eatwild.com/products/index.html – more listed below). I called the list and asked many the same questions. Only two passed our criteria — slaughter on site and possibly organic (Kookoolan was the other, and we simply preferred the taste of Deck’s chickens.) We now have bought from both (but Deck is our standing order) and BTW, in that time the chickens have not come with any bruises/broken bones but once. And of course, that will happen in the best of circumstances.

      BTW, some of the local agencies are also smoke and mirrors, so look for certified organic and/or ask if they are certified humane. The Certified Humane site is: http://www.certifiedhumane.org/ It is not enough to say, sure we are humane. Let us see, or become certified. If they give you an agency check out their standards, because the food producers are gettign smart and setting up groups that really don’t mean anything. Think of the word, “natural.” MEANS NOTHING.

      Deck also advised me to go out to the farms to check them out, as they knew that there was, for instance, a turkey farmer in the state who had a good show on the internet but had a large barn off site where the bulk of the turkeys were raised. So I recommend that you ask if you can visit at least — if they say no, find out what they say. Then consider. I can visit both Kookoolan and Deck.

      Organic became secondary as I learned the problems with feeding organics. Price is the biggest one, as Deck had been organic but could not sell them — the feed is very expensive and people were not willing to pay. On the other hand, most people will buy the hype and the illusion because they WANT to believe that their local co-op is selling the healthy, sustainable, humanely handled meats. But my experience is they do NOT. We are eating, we are sure, some GMO, though they work to not have that — but also say that getting feed that is truly non-gmo is a matter of buying organic. And that is expensive and they have to have the clientele to separate the chickens. I am trusting them; they feel good and I have learned a ton from Christine Deck.

      For instance, the chickens we are sued to have been bred for large breasts and it is very hard on the chicken. They topple over easily. So now we are trying to get used to the heritage chickens, which are bonier, and yes, can be tougher. I cook them longer at lower temps (350) and tent them. On the other hand, the juice that comes from them is very very low in fat — so low that I save it all and use it in beans and the like. Makes me reconsider what my grandmother was really doing when she pored all the drippings from her chickens dinners on the potatoes. The first time I had to pop a whole cooked chicken in the pan into the fridge I was shocked at the gelatin, and almost no fat. We put it into rice and bean dishes, yum. Recently we had a couple of the breast heavy chickens, and my husband did not know and poured the drippings into a jar and over half was hard fat in the morning. Hmmm.

      We are emptying our freezer to buy a side of either pork of beef. Their ham is amazing. No nitrates.

      You should be able to buy somewhere close to you — you have all that wonderful farm country not to far from you. Look for CSA farms too, where you order the year before. Tell them what you want, put up flyers at your local co-op asking for humanely-raised connections.

      Above all, have compassion for the process. It takes time to make the changes, find the connections. We eat a lot more veggies and rice and beans. My extended family would be horrified at what we pay for a chicken, but then again, it goes farther because we eat it like the precious commodity it is. Good luck!

      http://www.eatwild.com/products/index.html
      http://tilth.org/ (this is Oregon Tilth, but they may know who to contact in your area, and they also have info on various other areas of interest)
      http://www.farmerspal.com/

  2. Daisy says:

    Thanks for this discussion – I am actually trying to determine what the supply chain is for the restaurant I work for – we use draper valley and I was hoping to find a way to buy whole drapers closer to their butcher date. (we’ve never heard back from them either – and we wanted to buy birds – so I guess they’re really bad at responding!)

    I wanted to let you know what our prep cook told me – she cuts up 4-600 lbs of Draper chickens a week: she said she’s never seen a broken bone but has often seen bruising.

    As sad as this is – it’s also understandable if you think about it. I own many chickens (have had up to 75 at a time) and what I’ve noticed is they will try to get free and flap away if they aren’t handled regularly from a young age. I think we can agree that no for profit chicken farm is going to employ handlers. Which means that these Draper chickens are going to try to get away from perceived danger – which could be in their pens or closer to the time of their deaths.
    I personally don’t eat chicken unless its my only choice. I’ve butchered my own, and the fact that they haven’t put up a fight is almost worse – their total trust of me as their feeder/handler and that last look in their eye is not appetizing.

    Do you know where the birds are butchered vs. raised? You said it was a 4hr drive? – Daisy

    • zenkatwrites says:

      Hi Daisy,

      We’ve had both broken bones and bruising in every one. We now buy from local farmers who raise their own and butcher their own, and have occasional bruising. Yes, I agree, if you are killing ANYTHING it is bound to experience some trepidation even from someone it knows, and that can cause bruising — but really, we don’t have too much bruising. My grandpa used to walk out and pat his cow before putting a bullet in her head; that is probably the most humane way to go, and I say the chickens that look to you are also going most comfortably. And they are not all going to go that way. But the locals have little bruising so they know their handlers.

      I have now forgotten the closest Draper ranch to kill factory, but I calculated a four hour drive to the factory. They are put in small cages, sat on a truck and then go through hell until they arrive, (hot or cold, gads open air on the freeway) to be handled by handlers out of the cages and I am not interested in that. I think Draper for a restaurant chain is as good as you can get — unless it is a small restaurant.

      I don’t buy that they are bad at answering. I think that if their practices lived up to their hype they would be happy to answer and put it all on their website. I think they started with high standards and have lowered them as they grew and don’t wanna talk about it!

      I am not a fan of Whole Foods, but I am impressed by what they are pushing for in terms of farming, and it may make a difference because they are so big. I am impressed by the chickens they are getting in ours here in Portland; there is a small farming ranch that is killing on site for one of the two types of chicken. Not organic (that is VERY hard to find) but killed onsite is very good.

      I have tried being a full vegetarian twice, both with good balancing acts, and it just doesn’t quite work for my body. However, we make one chicken stretch through two dinners and three lunches, adding beans and rice as we go into burritos or some such thing — and that is fine. We eat far less meat than most meat eaters, and go for humane/organic/non-hormoned with the exceptions of if we are visiting someone — we even have restaurants in our area that do some of this.

      Best, Kate

  3. L. Nash says:

    Mad Hatcher Poultry produces a cornish cross that are humanely raised and they use a non gmo diet. I believe that they plan on growing their production and have a new product that will be available sometime in the new year, it’s called blue footed chicken. Very expensive. In France they sell for $12-20 per pound.

  4. taki1974 says:

    Lot’s of transparency here: http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/our-standards/. Currently Whole Foods is the only Grocery Store involved in this program. They also get specifically raised birds to comply with the GAP program. I hardly see any bruising our broken bones.

    • zenkatwrites says:

      HI,

      LOVE to knwo if you work for Whole Foods Jaime. I am about to write a followup to this post.

      I am happy that Whole Foods is participating in this program, and unhappy with my digging deeper. From what I can see, they are selling Draper Valley birds as both their organic birds (and we DO see broken legs and bruising) and then the Skagit Reds are not from the small amazing Skagit farm in the Washington area, but are also a branch of Draper Valley — again, I dug deeper, and sat on Whole Foods until I got a straight answer. If Draper rates a 5 in any area, I’d be shocked.

      Mary’s birds are non-GMO verified but come in at a 3, which is not what we want. Also, I wish their meat department (at least in the Pearl here in Portland) was knowledgable. I ask for a 4 or better, non-GMO, and am sent home with a 3 non-GMO. They do not seem to “get it.”

      And I also give them some business because despite their horrid CEO, I think the GAP program is good.

      Best, Kate

      • taki1974 says:

        Kate,
        I do work for a Whole Foods Market in Portland. One fact that often gets confused with the GAP program is that it is specifically a program regarding how the animals are raised and not what they’re fed. I understand your frustration with not having a non-GMO step four chicken available to purchase. My only response, from a regular Team member position as I’m not in leadership, is that the program is very new and is trying its very best to improve on a daily basis. Non-GMO step 3 Mary’s is the only chicken available on the buyer’s list. So it isn’t the store’s fault it’s really the Farms not being able to provide. And believe me, we’ve been very vocal about letting farms know what our customers want. Unfortunately, the big picture is that commercial farming has to make major leaps in order to go in the right direction after years and decades of really horrific farming practices. This is going to take patience and a lot of persuading the industry to move in the right direction.
        Also, a major factor is that the U.S. consumes over 5 billion chickens a year. Because of over population and supply and demand this forces animal farming to try and keep up. I truly believe the only way things are going to get better is through educating people on healthy eating practices.That number of chickens consumed really needs to drop considerably.
        As far as Skagit birds not being from Skagit valley, that’s news to me. May I ask where you got this information? How can we label it a Skagit bird if it’s raised else where? It’s also rated a 5+ not a 5, which is the highest rating for how an animal is raised on the GAP rating. Another good thing to know is that Draper raises chickens specifically to meet Whole Foods standards. This is why New Seasons or any other store selling Draper Chicken doesn’t have the same quality bird that we get. I’m also surprised about how you’ve found a lot of broken legs and bruising. I work in the Meat Department and handle hundreds of chickens a week and see very few broken legs. Weird.

      • zenkatwrites says:

        Hi Jaime,
        I’m not confused about the program,and know it has nothing to do with what they are fed. And my frustration is specific, so here goes:
        1) I understand all markets are having trouble getting humanely raised birds, and as I said, I applaud Whole Foods for participating in GAP. It is why we buy from you guys and do not buy the Draper birds from New Seasons. I assumed that the Skagit Reds you buy from Draper are being raised to your specifications, because the Skagit Reds are free from bruising. GET THEM TO DO A HUMANE ORGANIC OR CERTIFIED NON-GMO. I have bugged your management about it.
        2) Whole Foods chose a name called Skagit Red probably because there is an incredible wonderful organic and humane farm called Skagit River Ranch ( http://www.skagitriverranch.com/ )– many consumers in the Pacific Northwest think these come from there. Good marketing ploy, but for those of us who asked, we found out it was not them. And the ranch are not too happy about it either, and do what they can to dispel this mistake. Mind you Whole Foods doesn’t SAY they are those birds, but why rename a Draper Valley Chicken except that people like me don’t want them? I have no idea where they are raised, but I know it is a Draper Chicken. The first time I went into Whole Foods Pearl to buy chickens I told them specifically who I didn’t want — and Draper was on the list — and they told me none of their chickens were Draper Valley. Sorry, true story. I bought, then found out the truth. All Draper Valley, and Skagit Reds are raised to your standards — which is good. I will remain dubious about Draper. And anyone can name any product anything — even you know that!
        3) It is the regular organic birds from Draper that have the broken legs/bruising, and this is true of yours and New Seasons. I don’t think Draper is the worst by far, but I also don’t think they are good.
        4) I continue to give New Seasons a hard time about their implied GAP standard regarding their birds — when they have no standard at all about their birds. I think they should sign up to do what you at Whole Foods do — the GAP program. I also appreciate the deli chickens are in the GAP standards.
        5) If it wasn’t for all of the above I would not give Whole Foods the time of day. Your CEO is a menace, right up their with the Koch brothers. And I know you can’t say a word about him. Get you fired. MANY employees there are ashamed of him and his politics of the 1%. I shop their because you support GAP; that is all!
        6) Yes, chickens are eaten like crazy (40,000/week at New Seasons), and I think that if they charged what it costs to create a healthy chicken then naturally less would be eaten, or more respect for the birds might happen. New seasons says they can’t sell the organic humane chickens, and I tell them that if they were honest with their customers about the chickens they sell, then when they are selling the humane ones (summer, Kookoolan) people would easily pay. We use every bit of a whole chicken, and one lasts us for days, starting roasted, then into the beans for other meals, then bones into soup stock.
        6) Finally, your management should train the staff in the meat department better. I cannot even begin to tell you the crazy things I have had happen. Now I give specific instructions, but they need to train you all better! The staff are polite and give good service and don’t know much about the meat business. And I have told them just that, specifically in every insane case.

        Whew. Thanks for taking the time!

      • taki1974 says:

        Thank you, I suppose we should be thankful that we live in a place that has options.

  5. Christine says:

    I was looking up the meat used at a potential restaurant I was thinking of going to (Teote), and looked at their online menu and was googling Draper Valley Farms, which is their supplier of hens.

    First stop, their website, blech, a few vague bullet points on their treatment of the animals which says basically nothing. Bizaare claims to being a 100% vegetarian diet for supposedly-outdoor access hens.

    So, googling further, came across your blog post, very enlightening, and incredibly disheartening. Draper Valley sounds like a pretty brutal place if you are feathered being.

  6. Lyuda Arseniy says:

    Hello Kate,

    I am a student at UW, and my group is doing a Life Cycle Analysis of chicken products for the university (one of which is the Draper Valley Farms chicken, produced by Corfini Gourmet, and the other is Ameristar chicken, produced by FSA). Like the many people leaving comments, we are having a hard time trying to get a response from Draper Valley Farms. I would love to ask you a few questions about what you have learned since the blog post!

  7. Laura Sage says:

    Hi Kat,

    My husband and I are in our first season raising Freedom Ranger broiler chickens. We have them for sale at the Corvallis downtown farmer’s market on Saturday and Wednesday. Our birds are raised free range, on pasture and fed a diet containing NO corn, soy or GMOs. We butcher only 50 a week so that we can maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. Check us out at http://www.redbirdacresfarm.com and if you are ever down in Corvallis, come find us at the market, I think you would really like what we are doing. ~Laura

    • YEAH!!! I have people write me for places where they can find good humanely raised non-GMO birds. Here in Portland we have Kookooland and Deck Farms. I need to update this post sicne Purdue bought Draper — and that means the “NW Grown” at Whole Foods (really Draper disguised) and Skagit Reds (Draper in disguise.) It woudl be nice ot think that purdue is getting a conscinece or even just seeing what folks re looking for, but I DOUBT IT. I will list your site! Best, Kate

  8. Hello Kate,
    Today in the New Seasons weekly flyer the headlines say Non GMO Chicken is here and goes on to say-and now verified by the Non-GMO Project.
    I have called the the Non-GMO Project in Washington (State) and had to leave a message for them to call.
    I went shopping at my local NS (Concordia) this morning and was told the chicken was still Draper Valley and the boxes now say Non-GMO Verified. They are not the whole intact chicken but cut-up whole chickens and for some reason I was told wings and breasts. Makes you kind of wonder about the legs.
    I quoted you above that NS sells 40,000 chickens a week and they said no way they sold that many (collectively) so who knows.
    I went to the Non-GMO Verified website and cannot find either Draper Valley or Purdue chicken listed anywhere which is why I called.
    I will certainly let you know when I find out anything. If they do not call me I will keep bugging them until they do.
    I now realize I truly live in Portlandia.
    Deborah Krueger
    Portland, OR

  9. OK, Cara from the Non-GMO Verified Project just called me. Draper Valley products are in the process of becoming Non-GMO Project Verified; click here to see them.
    http://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/search-participating-products/search/?brandId=2630
    and it says the same thing for the Organic Chicken.
    I know you are not interested in Draper Valley but at least we have our answer.
    Deborah

    • I am much more interested as they are Non-GMO verified; now they need to become HUMANE. Your comments are always welcome here — good info. Also, not everyone can get Kookoolan, and I have readers from other areas who can only get a national brand. This gives them options.

  10. Susan says:

    Have you tried Botany Bay chickens? These birds are raised and slaughtered in Brush Prairie WA and are available at our NS in Vancouver WA. I have visited the farm, seen how the chickens are raised, non GMO (pastured in moveable houses), seen their own facility for dispatching the birds, where they do it all themselves, so the birds never have to leave the farm to be dispatched, have eaten the chickens and they are reminiscent of “old time” chicken. They are also “chicken” size, mostly 3lbs but can be a bit smaller and hardly every 4lbs, not the turkey sized chickens that are all too common. The farm is owned and run by a family with lots of children who help out in all aspects of the farm and they are also raising some pork, beef and lamb and rotate their animals between pastures. Since they are a small operation, the availability of chicken is seasonal but as time has gone by they have increased production and the season is lasting longer. Check out their website http://www.botanybayfarm.com

    • Sorry I wrote a longer post and had a glitch! Thank you. I need to write an update about our own experiences with Skagit Red (not to be confused with the lovely Skagit Farm chicken from the areas near Bellingham — these are Draper Valley chickens sold at Whole Foods), Organic Draper Valleys — both which are owned by Purdue. We’ll check into them!

    • Susan we tried Botany Bay and our experience was that the chickens tasted like tuna — very strong tuna. It has to do with what they are fed. It happened once KooKoolan but what Kookoolan did was very different. Kookoolan gave us a huge discount on the same number of birds next time — and their flavor was edible. Botany Bay dismissed our concern, as if this was not possible, “We’ve never heard this from other customers.” I countered that possibly other customers simply walked, but they stuck to their guns, despite how much I tried to discuss with them, and so, I have decided to pass on Botany Bay. They looked so good, but for $5+ a pound, I can’t take the losses when they are not good chickens. I know New Seasons is selling them, but we’ve decided to go back and order some from Kookoolan.

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