Costco sued by two shareholders over ‘neglect and abandonment’ of .99 rotisserie chickens

Costco is facing a lawsuit over the breeding and treatment of its chickens which claims that the multinational retail giant is violating its fiducary responsibility to shareholders.

The suit filed by two shareholders accuses Costco of the “illegal neglect and abandonment” of the birds in its Fremont, Nebraska, facility that become the retailer’s famed $4.99 rotisserie chickens in stores across the country.

The rotisserie chicken is one of Costco’s calling cards. Costco sold some 106 million six-pound chickens last year, and has steadfastly refused to raise their price even as inflation has seen prices surge for meat products at a range of grocery stores — letting the chicken serve as a loss leader for the store.

But this lawsuit claims that the mass production of cheap rotisserie chickens has a hidden cost. According to the Nebraska Examiner, the suit charges that Costco is growing its chickens too big — so big, in fact, that some chickens cannot stand up and die. The suit also claims that the conditions in the chicken facility are cramped and that the facility’s relatively inexperienced contract growers do not provide adequate individual veterinary care.

Alene Aleno, president of Legal Impact for Chickens, the group representing the shareholders who filed the suit, said that “Costco today represents a grim existence for animals in Nebraska who are warehoused in inescapable misery.”

The suit’s claims are not entirely new. Last year, the animal rights organisation Mercy for Animals released the findings of a visit to Costco’s chicken processing plant — which included “crowded, filthy barns,” “chickens struggling to walk under their own unnatural weight,” “bodies burned bare from ammonia-laden litter, “dead days-old chicks,” and “piles of rotting birds.”

The Mercy for Animals investigation gained a national spotlight when it was featured in a New York Times column written by Nicholas Kristof, a longtime columnist for the newspaper who resigned last year to run for governor of Oregon. He was ultimately barred from the ballot, however, when the Secretary of State found that he had failed to meet the state’s residency requirements.

“Some day, I think, future generations will look back at our mistreatment of livestock and poultry with pain and bafflement,” Kristof wrote. “They will wonder how we in the early 21st century could have been so oblivious to the cruelties that delivered $4.99 chickens to a Costco rotisserie.”

In a 2021 statement, Costco said that it is “committed to maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare, humane processes and ethical conduct throughout the supply chain.”

The lawsuit was filed in Washington, where Costco is headquartered in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah. It has previously defended the qualifications of its contract growers at its chicken facility in Nebraska.

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