Tell Costco: Consumers Don't Want Your Giant Factory Farm!

Walk in to any Costco store, and you’ll be greeted by the smell of roasting chicken.

Mmm mmm good—for your nose, maybe. 

But Costco’s $4.99 rotisserie chickens are bad for the environment, bad for farmers, bad for chickens and bad for your health.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Costco: Consumers don’t want unhealthy factory farm chicken and a polluted environment. Please invest in organic regenerative poultry farming instead!

white chickens in a poultry factory farm

Click to tweet a message to Costco. Post on Costco's Facebook page.  

Call Costco’s customer service line at 1-800-774-2678. If you’re a member, tell them you’ll cancel your membership unless Costco halts its factory farm project.

Send a tax-deductible donation to support Nebraska residents fighting back against Costco's factory farm.

Costco is a leading seller of organic produce. Yet when it comes to meat, the retail giant is big on cheap chicken. 

So big, that Costco wants to build the largest factory farm chicken operation in the U.S., in Fremont, Neb. (population under 26,500). Unfortunately, the project has the support of a majority of Fremont’s city council members.

But a group of citizens representing the millions of people in surrounding towns say it’s their waterways that will be polluted by Costco’s cheap chicken farms. They point out that the majority of Nebraskans, approximately one million, will see water quality decline as a result of poultry litter runoff from the 100 chicken barns that will raise birds for Costco.

Equally important, the group says, is this: Nebraska should invest in family farms that support local economies and use responsible farming practices—not corporate-owned factory farms.

What’s wrong with this project?

In 2012, the Washington Post reported that Costco sold 50 million rotisserie chickens a year. At just $4.99, Costco’s rotisserie chickens are the ultimate cheap convenience food.

But cheap chicken comes at a high price—not to Costco, of course—but to everyone who’s affected by polluted water (and the cost to clean it up), antibiotic-resistance, contract farmers who get ripped off, processing plant workers who become ill (or worse), and you, the consumer, who gets inferior nutrition. Oh, and let’s not forget the chickens, who endure unspeakable misery crammed into filthy, unhealthy conditions.

It’s tough to reduce the trouble with Big Cheap Chicken to a list of bullet points, but here goes:

• Pollution. Nebraska’s waterways are already the sixth most polluted in the U.S. Nebraska Communities United, many of whose members live downstream from Fremont, asked the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future to weigh in on Costco’s plans. They wrote: 

Poultry processing plant effluents are high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and total suspended solids, all of which could threaten water quality if discharged into waterways. The proposed poultry processing plant would be a source of these nutrients, as well as fecal coliforms and possibly other pathogenic bacteria, discharged into the surrounding waterways including the Platte River, a major tributary of the Missouri River.

More here on the risks Costco’s plan poses to the environment.

• Exploitation of local chicken farmers. Costco’s project, with partner Lincoln Premium Poultry, is based on a “vertical integration system,” otherwise known as “contract farming.” Under this system, corporations enter into decidedly one-sided contracts with farmers who raise the chickens. For the best explanation of how this system works, and how chicken farmers bear all the risk while corporations reap all the benefits, watch John Oliver’s video exposé. 

• Unsafe working conditions. Costco plans to slaughter 85 million chickens annually—or about 1.7 million per week—at its Fremont processing plant. What will that be like for workers? As bad, or worse, as the conditions endured by poultry processing plants now. NBC News recently reported that workers in chicken slaughterhouses are twice as likely to suffer from serious injuries as workers in private industry, and six times as likely to have a work-related illness. The speed at which they’re required to process chickens is partly to blame—and corporate chicken producers want even faster speeds. Workers are also exposed to toxic chemicals that lead to asthma and other severe respiratory problems, burns, rashes, irritated eyes, and sinus ulcers and other sinus problems.

• Antibiotic resistance. In her new book, “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats,” Maryn McKenna traces the history of the use of antibiotics in poultry production, and how it’s contributed to today’s public health crisis:

[Resistant bacteria] are responsible for at least 700,000 deaths around the world each year: 23,000 in the United States, 25,000 in Europe, more than 63,000 babies in India. Beyond those deaths, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics cause millions of illnesses — two million annually just in the United States — and cost billions in health care spending, lost wages, and lost national productivity. It is predicted that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will cost the world $100 trillion and will cause a staggering 10 million deaths per year.

The use of antibiotics and other drugs in poultry production has been well-documented. OCA recently sued Sanderson Farms over this very issue.

• Nutritionally inferior meat. When it comes to cheap chicken, you get what you pay for. Not only is most factory farm chicken contaminated with antibiotics and other drugs, it’s also less nutritious. According to a 2005 report in The Guardian, chicken in 2004 contained more than twice as much fat as in 1940, a third more calories and a third less protein.

The Guardian article, reporting on a London Metropolitan University Study, also explained that levels of healthy fats in chicken, namely beneficial animal-based omega-3s including DHA, have also changed considerably. Eating 100 grams (about one-quarter pound) of chicken in 1980 would give you 170 milligrams (mg) of DHA, but that same amount of chicken in 2004 would provide just 25 mg.

More here from on why Costco’s new factory farm operation will likely produce inferior meat.

There’s a better way to raise poultry

According to a recent article in Investor’s Business Daily, Americans are eating more chicken than ever—91 pounds per person per year. The article, though it largely praised factory farm chicken producers, also noted that consumers want “drug-free” chicken.

“Drug-Free” is not what Costco is likely to produce. But even if it did, Costco’s model for producing cheap chicken is a disaster on all fronts.

There are better ways to raise poultry. 

What if instead of investing $180 million to build an abominable factory farm in Fremont, Costco invested in a better system? One that produces a healthier product, using practices that treat workers (and birds) better, that support local family farms, that don’t pollute air and waterways, that don’t rely on antibiotics, and that do promote biodiversity, and restore soil health so that the soil is not only more resilient in extreme weather, but able to draw down and sequester carbon?

That model exists. “Poultry-centered regenerative agriculture” does all of the above. Pilot projects in Minnesota and Mexico prove that raising chicken for meat doesn’t have to harm the environment.

Can these systems be scaled up? Yes, though in ways that support not just huge corporations, but also the farmers who raise the chickens. 

In general, consumers eat too much meat. We’d be healthier if we increased our plant consumption, decreased our consumption of all meat, including chicken—and chose pasture-raised chicken, over Costco-style factory farm poultry. 

Costco will produce what consumers want. It’s up to us to tell them: no more factory farms. Invest in regenerative poultry instead!

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