For over a decade Costco has been selling a product that sets the supermarket chain apart: Kirkland Signature rotisserie chickens.which sells for just $4.99 a unit, a price lower than most of its competitors.
But now Costco faces a lawsuit from two of its shareholders They claim that the company and its top executives have violated animal welfare laws and breached their fiduciary duties. The plaintiffs question how far the chain has gone to keep its prized product at such competitive prices.
“Costco illegally neglects and abandons its chickens,” the lawsuit filed this month in Seattle alleges. According to the document, company executives knowingly ignored “clear signs of Costco’s continued mistreatment of chickens.”
Crowded farms and oversized chickens
The suit concerns a poultry processing plant the company opened in Nebraska in 2019 at a cost of $450 million. It was a great investment that showed how important rotisserie chickens are to Costco. Last year alone Costco sold 106 million cooked poultry.
To get its plant up and running, Costco hired area farmers to raise broilers that will then be shipped to its Nebraska processing plant.
But according to the lawsuit, Costco intentionally promotes the raising of broilers that are too large, to the point that many of them cannot even support their own weight and fall to the ground, lose their feathers and even get dermatitis. Unable to walk, the birds are unable to eat or drink water, so they slowly and painfully die.
The factory farms where those animals are shipped are “dirty and overcrowded,” run by inexperienced breeders that Costco recruits and trains, without much success, the plaintiffs say.
“There, the affected birds slowly die of hunger, thirst, injuries and illnesses,” claim the plaintiffs, who claim that the company does all this to save money and to maintain its flagship product at the best market price.
A press report revealed the horrors at Costco farms
In 2021, the organization Mercy for Animals managed to sneak photos and videos of injured chickens on one of the farms that work for Costco. From this material, a writer for the newspaper The New York Times published the story ‘The Disturbing Secrets Behind Costco’s Chicken’, which revealed the company’s questionable practices to the world.
In response, Cotsco defended its treatment of the animals, saying it complied with standards developed by the National Chicken Council, a trade association.
However, according to the lawsuit, these practices by Costco could end up hurting consumers’ interest in rotisserie chickens, due to a bad reputation.