Given increased consumer demand for organic chicken, Bell & Evans, the nation’s oldest branded chicken company, is breaking ground on a new Pennsylvania processing facility. The new plant is scheduled to open in 2020 and will have the capacity to triple the company’s total production, processing 2.6 million birds a week, according to a company statement.
“This is a very exciting time for us,” owner Scott Sechler tells Meat + Poultry. “We’re investing a lot of time and money on innovative equipment, processes and facilities to grow our business and fulfill our commitments to raising chickens humanely and providing healthier, more flavorful poultry to our customers.”
The company has also announced its intention to transition all of its birds to the slower-growing Klassenbester breed next year, which industry experts have deemed more humane. NPR’s The Salt reports that the fast-growing chicken breeds used by many in the industry often suffer health problems such as splayed legs and joint problems due to their weight.
“We’re pretty proud to say that 100 percent of our products will come from a higher-welfare, better-quality breed,” says Sechler.
Bell & Evans has also committed to expanding its organic production – organic chicken currently accounts for approximately 30 percent of the company’s output – and has expressed its intention to source its organic feed grain domestically. This commitment is even more significant in light of recent issues linked to fraudulent organic grain imports as detailed by the Washington Post this past spring.
Bell & Evans launched the nation’s first organic chicken hatchery earlier this year. The hatchery is the first to prohibit antibiotics from being used on unhatched chickens and chicks and is one of the only facilities allowing chicks immediate access to organic feed and water upon hatching.
Bell & Evans supplies nationwide grocers including Whole Foods and Wegmans as well as independent butchers.
Chicken is the third-largest organic agricultural commodity in the United States behind milk and eggs, reports Bloomberg.
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