Costco is the subject of an animal neglect lawsuit over their contracted poultry farms, which are used for the big box stores’ popular $4.99 rotisseries chickens.
In the legal complaint, which was filed this month in Seattle, Costco shareholders Krystil Smith and Tyler Lobdell allege that an unnamed barn, one of hundreds contracted in Nebraska and Iowa, is responsible for breaking animal welfare laws in the states.
“Most of the individuals whom Costco contracted to raise chickens had never raised chickens before they started working with Costco,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result, Costco is responsible for training these growers on how to raise chickens and how to care for animals, and for setting the animal welfare standards that these growers follow.”
Costco did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The lawsuit argues Costco provides more than 100 million Kirkland Signature rotisserie chickens a year at a loss for the company in order to generate foot traffic.
“If Costco continues its illegal mistreatment of chickens, it risks undermining its long-running and successful traffic-generation strategy,” the complaint states. “As more consumers learn of the mistreatment of Costco chickens, the benefits reaped using loss-leading rotisserie chickens to drive customer traffic and purchases — which are important enough for Costco to invest in significantly— will vanish or greatly diminish because consumer preferences to not buy products made illegally or unethically will trump the lure of a ‘cheap’ chicken.”
Smith and Lobdell allege that the unnamed contracted farms raise tens of thousands of chickens a week, which are “bred to grow unnaturally fast,” which can lead to health issues. Some of the birds even become so heavy that they lose feathers on their underside due to friction with the dirty floor, which leaves ammonia burns on their unprotected skin.
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The lawsuit comes after nonprofit Mercy for Animals exposed the facility’s treatment of their chickens in a video posted last February. It was followed by a New York Times op-ed and a Change.org petition urging the chain to sign onto the Better Chicken Commitment, a more humane processing standard that has already been adopted by Popeyes, Chipotle, Subway and more than 200 other companies.