Support Proposed Rule to Make Big Poultry Tell Farmers the Truth

Published August 22, 2022

A new rule proposed by U.S Department of Agriculture could help protect farmers from being deceived by the industrialized poultry industry.

The rule, “Transparency in Poultry Grower Contracting and Tournaments,” would force Big Poultry companies to be more transparent and truthful when it comes to disclosing information farmers need to make informed decisions about their contracts. This would allow farmers to identify unfair advantages in the poultry industry’s tournament-style pay system that pits farmer against farmer, based on factors outside the farmers’ control. [Read rule here: https://sraproject.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/mailing/url?u=659&qid=79591]

And by providing farmers with more information about the companies’ practices, the proposed rule also provides evidence of when they’ve been retaliated against for speaking up for themselves.

The passing of this rule would better protect farmers and their right to truthful information about poultry farming, preventing farmers from entering into contracts that are often exploitative and one-sided.

The USDA is accepting public comments through Tuesday, August 23. If you have had direct experience with contract poultry growing, please be sure to share that! For the many of you without such experience, please write a short comment expressing support for the proposed rule and transparency in how large poultry companies deal with farmers. There is no such thing as a functioning market system when a handful of large companies not only control the market but do so in the absence of open information.

Submit your comments online here. They can be quite short, just a few sentences urging USDA to adopt the proposed rule and require large corporations to deal more transparently and fairly with farmers.


MORE INFORMATION

The proposed rule requires poultry companies to be more transparent about how farmers are paid through what the industry calls “the tournament system.” Companies will be required to provide information to farmers about the feed and the birds supplied by the companies and to provide contracts guaranteeing a certain number of chickens a year.

Background: The vast majority of poultry in this country is raised under contract between “integrators” and “growers.” The integrator, a company like Tyson or Cargill, owns the breeding facilities and thus the baby chicks. They contract with a grower – what most people would call a farmer – to raise the chicks on the grower’s property. The grower provides the land, labor, and housing that meets the integrator’s specifications. The integrator provides the chicks, the feed, and the medicine. The grower has no control over the initial quality of the chicks, the design of the housing, the population density, or the quality of the food they are given. In other words, when it comes to almost all of the variables that affect how well a bird grows, the integrator controls the situation.

Despite that, most integrators pay growers by comparing them to each other through the tournament system. Growers whose finished birds are smaller get paid less, even though the small birds are likely to be the result of lower quality chicks or feed provided by the company.

Not only is this inherently unfair, but it has allowed big companies to easily retaliate against any grower who speaks out about any issue. Speak at a public meeting about the problems with how Tyson or Perdue treats birds or workers? Your next batch of chicks could be runts and your feed moldy. And, under most of the contracts, there are no guarantees about flock placements. So, anger the company, and you may find yourself cut off without warning – and left with a multi-million-dollar facility that is mortgaged to the hilt.

Because the poultry industry is so consolidated, the growers can’t simply find someone else to work with – there may be no one else in their region. And the lack of small-scale processors means that many can’t set up their own independent operation.

While FARFA’s members aren’t contract poultry growers, we have worked within coalitions to fight this issue for over a decade. Not only is it an issue of fairness for the farmers who are impacted, but the level of control over the food system exerted by these big companies hurts us all, including the farmers and consumers who have “opted out” by going into direct marketing and regenerative farming.

The more economic power the companies have, the more they are able to distort the markets, write the government rules and regulations to suit themselves and harm small producers, and continue the destruction of the infrastructure needed for local and regional food systems.

On its own, this proposed rule is a relatively small step, but a good one. By requiring poultry corporations to disclose information more transparently and truthfully, it helps growers make informed decisions about their contracts and better advocate for themselves. It could also build a foundation for further rulemaking or enforcement action by USDA or Congress.

This rule is only the first of three that USDA has promised to issue this year – so stay tuned for future alerts about all the rules and how you should take action.