Costco faces animal welfare lawsuit over its $4.99 rotisserie chicken

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A Costco employee prepares chicken at Costco in Mountain View, Calif. on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Costco is facing an animal negligence lawsuit over its contract poultry farms, which are used for popular $4.99 roast chickens from big-box stores.

In the legal complaint, which was filed this month in Seattle, Costco shareholders Krystil Smith and Tyler Lobdell claim an unnamed barn, one of hundreds under contract in Nebraska and Iowa, is responsible for violating animal welfare laws in the States.

“Most people hired by Costco to raise chickens had never raised chickens before they began working with Costco,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, Costco is responsible for educating these producers on how to raise chickens and care for the animals, and for establishing the animal welfare standards that these producers follow.”

Costco did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

The lawsuit argues that Costco provides more than 100 million Kirkland Signature roast chickens a year at a loss to the company to drive foot traffic.

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Costco Wholesale in East Harlem on November 24, 2020 in New York

Costco Wholesale in East Harlem on November 24, 2020 in New York

Noam Galai/Getty Images

“If Costco continues to unlawfully abuse chickens, it risks undermining its long-term and successful traffic generation strategy,” the complaint states. “As more consumers learn of the abuse of Costco chickens, the benefits of using rotisserie chickens at a loss to drive traffic and customer purchases — which are significant enough for Costco to invest significantly – will disappear or drastically diminish because consumer preferences not to buy illegally or unethically produced products will outweigh the lure of ‘cheap’ chicken.”

Smith and Lobdell allege that the unnamed contract farms raise tens of thousands of chickens a week, which are “raised to grow abnormally fast” which can lead to health problems. Some birds even become so heavy that they lose their feathers on their undersides due to friction with dirty ground, leaving ammonia burns on their unprotected skin.

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The lawsuit comes after the non-profit organization Mercy for Animals revealed the facility’s treatment of their chickens in a video published last February. It was followed by a New York Times editorial and a Change.org petition urging the channel to sign on the Best Chicken Pledgea more humane standard of treatment that has already been adopted by Popeyes, Chipotle, Subway and over 200 other companies.

Costco previously released a statement in September who claimed they are “committed to the welfare of animals in its supply chains”, arguing that their barns meet the minimum standards set by the National Chicken Council.

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