Perdue Farms, Perdue Foods and Perdue Agribusiness have more than 6,000 employees in Delaware, according to recent numbers from the company. Perdue also works with more than 500 poultry farmers and over 400 grain farmers here. The nearly 100-year-old firm estimates its annual economic impact in the state at just over $1 billion.
Its harvest plant in Milford is the largest USDA-certified organic chicken plant in the country, and the company recently spent $15 million there to, among other things, convert the operation to controlled atmosphere stunning. This method essentially uses gas to put the animals to sleep before slaughter and is considered more humane than other methods. Perdue also recently invested in automation at its Georgetown harvest plant, and the company’s nutrient recycling plant in Seaford celebrated its first full year of production.
Such details may pale in comparison, in the long run, to Perdue’s leadership in the antibiotic-free movement. The company eliminated all use of animal-only antibiotics in late 2016. That came two years after Perdue Farms became the first major poultry company to stop routinely giving its chickens antibiotics that are also used in human medicine. Perdue’s overall husbandry program is based on the Five Freedoms, a globally recognized standard for welfare, and includes significant efforts to encourage natural behavior, reduce stress and avoid suffering.
“It was a learning process that started in 2002,” says Andrea Staub, Perdue’s senior vice president, corporate communications. “It wasn’t about not using antibiotics, but about learning how to raise chickens so that we don’t need antibiotics.”