Monday, May 17, 2010

Speak Out Against Abusive Poultry Contracts!

JoelOn Friday, May 21st at Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama, the Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture will hold an unprecedented public workshop on competition and regulatory issues in the poultry sector. This workshop will be the second in a series of five workshops being hosted this year by the DOJ and USDA to address antitrust and corporate concentration issues in agriculture. The first workshop, held in March in Iowa, attracted approximately 800 people, including hundreds of farmers, consumers, activists, and a significant media presence.

Now, working with several ally groups, Farm Aid is encouraging poultry growers and family farm supporters from around the country to attend the workshop in Alabama and let their voices be heard. We know many contract poultry growers fear retaliation for speaking out against the imbalance in power that typifies their contracts. Opportunities for both public and confidential comment will be available, and growers and supporters who prefer not to comment but want to support greater oversight and fairer conditions for contract growers will be an important presence.

It is crucial for all of us to learn more about the situation facing contract poultry growers. There is no real competition in the poultry industry because just a few large companies dominate the market at every step of production. This forces poultry growers into one-sided, abusive contracts that put them in debt and lock them into a system they can’t get out of. In the U.S. today, more than 90% of poultry is raised this way, and the abusive contracting model is quickly spreading to other forms of livestock and crop production. Most poultry companies, for example, urge new farmers to build at least four poultry houses, based on the company's own specifications, in their contract agreements. At about $300,000 per house, this requires farmers to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get started. The poultry company, who owns all of the birds both pre- and post-slaughter, gets off the hook without any risks associated with this investment. It's clear to see who's getting the short end of the stick in this relationship. Check out this PDF fact sheet from RAFI-USA for the hard realities of contract poultry production.

As with the first workshop in Iowa, the Alabama workshop is free and open to the public. However, individuals interested in attending should register for the workshop by clicking here. For more details, please contact RAFI-USA's Becky Ceartas or Farm Aid's Hilde Steffey.

New regulations and stronger enforcement by USDA and DOJ would be a big step towards contract poultry growers being treated more fairly and getting fair pay – and the first step toward a more sustainable and just livestock sector. Please join us in bringing attention to this critical issue.

For more information about the full series of workshops, see this page.

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