Costco was slapped with a shareholder lawsuit alleging the popular low-cost rotisserie chickens sold by the wholesale club are subjected to cruel deaths in violation of several state laws.
The chickens are bred to grow quickly, eventually becoming too fat to stand on their own and “slowly die from hunger, thirst, injury and illness,” according to the complaint filed earlier this month in state court in Seattle on behalf of two shareholders.
Costco executives and directors are abandoning their fiduciary duties by allowing this practice to continue, the suit alleges, naming each director and C-suite executive as defendants.
Costco, which has its headquarters in Issaquah, Wash., did not immediately respond for comment.
The company charges $4.99 for the fully-cooked birds at its 574 stores, selling 106 million last year alone, according to the suit.
The chickens are so important to Costco’s bottom line that the company operates an entire poultry ecosystem — from hatchling to slaughter — run by Lincoln Premium Poultry to help it keep the price of its rotisserie chickens below that of its competitors, according to the suit.
The complaint alleges the inhumane treatment of the chickens violates state laws covering livestock in Nebraska and Iowa, where the chickens are held.
The chickens arrive at factory farms when they are a couple hours old and live their lives out in “crowded, filthy sheds amidst their own waste,” and frequently lose their feathers because of their weight, according to the complaint. The animal’s skin contact with the “dirty floor” then causes “ammonia burns” according to the complaint.
“Costco illegally neglects and abandons its chickens,” the suit states, and its executives are “aware of, and consciously disregarded clear signs of Costco’s ongoing mistreatment of chickens.”
It’s not the first time the retailer has been blasted for the treatment of chickens. Last year, animal rights group Mercy for Animals filmed undercover footage of injured chickens in a crowded factory at one of the farms. A number of media outlets, including The New York Times, then published investigative articles about Costco’s facilities.
“Their awareness is plainly evidenced by, among other things, Costco’s own publicly released responses to the outcry surrounding its mistreatment of chickens. Costco directors had an obligation to investigate and correct,” the suit states.