Frank Perdue Dies at 84

Frank Perdue, CEO of Perdue Farms and one of the richest men in America, died on March 31 after a brief illness. Perdue was 84.

In 1971, Perdue became one of the first CEOs of a major company to pitch his products in television commercials with the famous “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” line. Under Perdue’s stewardship, the company went from $56 million in sales in 1970 to $2.8 billion in sales in 2003.

Along the way, Perdue became a controversial figure for a number of his business decisions. In 1986, Perdue testified to Congress that he had once sought the aid of mobster Paul Castellano to help suppress union organizing activities at his company.

And, of course, Perdue was the target of animal rights activists. Writing in Satya Magazine, for example, Jack Rosenberger had this to say in remembrance of Perdue,

As a vegetarian, it would be irresponsible of me not to comment on Frank PerdueÂ’s death in March or the laudatory obituaries which failed to acknowledge that PerdueÂ’s livelihood involved enormous animal pain, suffering and death. For the purposes of this column, I will offer some comments on the lengthy and euphemistic obituaries that appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yet, I am not sure how much I am commenting on Frank Perdue and how much I am commenting on humankind in general.

A little perspective: Frank Perdue was responsible for the breeding, enslavement and killing of billions of chickens and turkeys during his lifetime. . . .

The Washington Post found that the ethical issues, from an animal rights perspective, surrounding Perdue’s murderous business merited a mere two sentences: “He also was a frequent target of animal rights activists opposed to factory farming. In 1992, a woman dressed in a chicken suit hurled a cream pie in his face.”

In both obituaries, the chicken and turkey victims are nearly absent, their existence reduced to abstract words like “pounds” and “product.” “Today,” the Times reported, “the privately held company [Perdue] sells more than 48 million pounds of chicken products and nearly four million pounds of turkey products a week.” The Post was even more concise: “It processes 52 million pounds of chicken and turkey each week.”

The chickens and turkeys themselves—the once living, beautiful beings—are invisible.

Similarly, PETA’s website noted,

Perdue was responsible for developing many of the notoriously cruel techniques used in modern chicken factory farming. Crammed by the tens of thousands into sheds that reek of ammonia fumes from accumulated waste, each bird lives in an amount of space equivalent to a standard sheet of paper, without room to take a step or stretch a wing. The birds routinely suffer broken bones because they are bred to be top heavy and because workers roughly grab their legs and slam them into crates and shackle them upside-down at slaughterhouses. Chickens are often still fully conscious when their throats are slit or when they are dumped into tanks of scalding water to remove their feathers. When they’re killed, chickens are still babies—not yet 2 months old. Their natural lifespan is 10 to 15 years.

Frank Perdue leaves a legacy of unimaginable suffering for billions of tortured birds

Henry Spira took out ads attacking Perdue, repeating the mob story and other incidents in Perdue’s life. But Perdue ignored the ads and the activists and refused to accede to their demands. And, of course, the business changes that PETA complains about were responsible for a major decrease in the price of poultry and a huge increase in poultry production. Despite the campaigns of animal rights activists, American society came down squarely on the side of intensive chicken production.

None of the commentary from activists I read bothered to speculate on how a meat eater like Perdue managed to live well past the average life expectancy for an American male.


Vegetarian Advocate: A Better Death, Courtesy of McDonaldÂ’s? Jack Rosenberger, Satya Magazine, May 5, 2005.

Chicken entrepreneur Frank Perdue dies. Foster Klug, Associated Press, April 1, 2005.

Frank Perdue, Responsible for Appalling Cruelty to Chickens, Dies. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Undated.

Leave a Reply