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The New York Times reports this morning that "over the next several years, all of Perdue’s chickens — 676 million last year — will bask in sunlight, part of an ambitious overhaul of the company’s animal welfare practices, which it will announce on Monday. The commitment will hold Perdue to standards similar to those in Europe, which the American poultry industry has long dismissed as antiquated, inefficient and costly.

"In addition to installing windows, the company plans to give its chickens more space in barns. It may tinker with breeding to decrease the speed at which birds grow or to reduce their breast size, steps that could decrease the number and severity of leg injuries, an issue that has brought unwanted attention to the company. Also, Perdue will put its chickens to sleep before slaughter, a step taken several years ago by Bell & Evans, a smaller poultry company.

“We are going to go beyond what a chicken needs and give chickens what they want,” said Jim Perdue, grandson of the company's founder.

The story makes clear that Perdue took some convincing by animal rights groups to come this far, but that now it is not just embracing new animal welfare practices, but also is working to be transparent about what it is doing.

The Times writes, "Over the last decade or so, Perdue has done more than any other major American poultry producer to eliminate antibiotics of all kinds from its procedures. That made it impossible to continue raising so many birds in as tight spaces and under conditions many people consider unsanitary. Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest chicken producer in the world, are also reducing their use of antibiotics.

"The purchase in 2011 of Coleman Natural Foods, a producer of organic meats, as well as the acquisition last year of Niman Ranch, a high-end producer of pork and beef, also helped persuade Mr. Perdue that his company, now the largest producer of organic chicken, could improve animal welfare without hurting business."
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