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Archive for the ‘Contract Farming’ Category

Casualties of Covid-19 in the Chicken Industry

By Carole Morison

A letter posted on a Facebook page,  DelMarVA Poultry (uncensored), on Friday made its rounds.  The letter indicates that Allen Harim, a local chicken company on Delmarva, will be “sacrificing” flocks of their chickens on farms they contract with.  The reason for the decision by the company is because it doesn’t have enough workers showing up to its processing facility to slaughter and package the chickens. Considered essential personnel it doesn’t say why workers aren’t coming to work whether it be sickness or social distancing.

Attributed to Covid-19, worker attendance at the company processing plant has been reduced by some 50 percent, according to the letter, and the company is no longer able to slaughter the amount of chickens that need to be slaughtered.  Calling it a “very difficult decision”, Allen Harim has begun killing chickens on the farms it contracts with.  The growers the company contracts with will be left with the responsibility of disposing of the dead chickens.  A local television station, WMDT 47, says the number of chickens being killed is almost 2 million.

The first thing that came to mind when I read the company letter was how will the contract growers be paid? As a farmer, and having raised chickens under contract in another life, it was an automatic reaction.

Allen Harim say’s “growers will be paid fairly”, without giving any detail.  The chickens aren’t being killed because of a catastrophic illness such as Avian Influenza, which would be done by order from either the state or federal governments and pay is normally outlined in the contract between the company and the farmer.  There is no governmental order to kill these chickens, it’s a private company decision because of inadequate planning.  I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that payments will go to the company for the economic loss, from some government fund, because of a National Emergency and lack of employees to process food.  What the company decides to share with contract growers is anyone’s guess.

The thought of wasting so much chicken that otherwise would help to fill the shortages in grocery stores stared me in the face.  I felt badly that there would be so much food waste while people are scrambling for it!

However, thinking of it from an animal welfare perspective, in this case, euthanizing the chickens might not be such a bad idea. A projected oversupply of at least a 6-week period by Allen Harim, would mean that the chickens could remain on farms for an extended 6-week time period if kept alive.

Chickens ready for slaughter have already grown to a targeted weight in 6 to 8 weeks on the farm.  Through genetic selection, industrial chickens are designed to grow rapidly, far ahead in weight gain compared to bone and internal organ growth.  Kept and fed longer would only add more weight to overburdened bones and internal organs and the chickens would suffer bone and organ issues, primarily heart attacks and skeletal problems such as legs not able to bear the unnatural weight.  With a shortage of workers the company cannot guarantee that it will continue to bring feed to farms.  Do you keep animals and watch them suffer until they die?  Do you keep animals that might starve?  I think not.

If you’re curious about how the chickens will be killed, quite frankly they will be smothered using gas or through mechanical means.  The fans which bring fresh air inside of the chicken house are turned off and a gas is pumped into the chicken house until enough is used to kill the chickens.  The gas method is costly, inconvenient to arrange depending on locale, and takes a much longer period time.

Mechanical means, called “ventilation shutdown”, consists of turning off all the fans that bring air into the chicken house and then wait for the chickens to suffocate.  This method costs nothing and is easily done. It can be accomplished in a much shorter amount of time.  Some say in as little as 3 hours.  Either method is gruesome.

Some have voiced environmental and public health concerns.  Environmentally speaking, the issue of how the dead chickens will be disposed of is my concern.  One method is to leave the dead chickens inside the house, let them compost, and then clean all of it out from the chicken house(s) and spread it on farm fields or have it hauled away to other farm fields to be used as fertilizer. This method is costly and takes time.

Using the burial method of disposal is the quickest, cheapest, and easiest method.  It involves digging a trench or pit, putting the dead chickens in and covering them with dirt.  The problem with this method is leaching and discharging contaminants into groundwater.

The chickens aren’t being killed because they have a disease or virus which could potentially spread to other chickens or make humans sick.

Is this situation a single occurrence or a preview of things to come from chicken companies as the Covid-19 virus slowly makes it way past the Delmarva Peninsula.  Poor planning of chicken production numbers and not taking the virus and the many warnings into account is the reason it’s an issue.  Delmarva’s poultry industry is not immune.

All over the country, processing plants are experiencing worker shortages, some have had to shut down.  Although Allen Harim doesn’t say if the absent workers have tested positive for Covid-19 or if they are sick, it can safely be assumed that some if not all that are absent are ill.  Workers that I have spoken with say that they’ve been threatened with job termination if they don’t come to work regardless of feeling unwell or not.  Many don’t speak or understand English very well or not at all, cannot find work anywhere else, and don’t understand the law.  They have families to feed and would not miss work on a whim.  Let’s hope and pray that any workers who are sick with the virus get well again and don’t become another statistic.

There are so many ways that the people of Delmarva are affected by the poultry industry and so many ways that they pay for it.  It’s unsustainable and only survives when propped up by taxpayer dollars.  Two million chickens being slaughtered and dumped because of poor business planning before and during a pandemic should not be happening.  This is another example among many of how the industry has negative impacts on the communities that surround it.

A Story With Two Sides

In the days of little to no tolerance for people who don’t think or agree with one’s own beliefs and to have no room for hearing anything that isn’t in agreement, I’ve had an epiphany, of sorts. I’d become one of the crowd.  I was raised better than that. With six siblings, there were always two sides to the many skirmishes, as one can imagine.

I was also taught that when you are wrong about something in a disagreement, you say that you are wrong.  In one of my previous blog posts, Oh, the tangled web we weave……..”, I implied that Samantha Campbell, President of the Keith Campbell Foundation, wasn’t really interested in alternative farming methods, other than the status quo of industrial contract chicken farming, on the Delmarva Peninsula.  I also took a quote from the Foundations website and said that it was disingenuous in reference to community exclusion over an ammonia data collecting project that the Foundation teamed up with chicken companies and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

 “Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”  Campbell Foundation website

In that part of my blog post, I was wrong.  (That was not hard to say, maybe we all should reflect on it). Since that time, Samantha Campbell has reached out to me and was open to discussion about the project and inclusion of the community.  Although I wasn’t wrong about not having all of the stakeholders at the table when discussions took place, she has opened discussion about the communities affected.  I’ve had several chats with Ms. Campbell since then and they have been quite surprising to me.

She has also shown her interest in alternative independent farming on the Delmarva Peninsula of which I’m most appreciative.  The Keith Campbell Foundation was a sponsor of a recent fundraising dinner organized by Maria Payan, a consultant for the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP)  to benefit the Delmarva Farmers Union (DFU).  The proceeds will support DFU’s new program “Certified Delmarva Grown”  .

“The Certified Delmarva Grown (CDG) program, administered by the Delmarva Farmers Union (DFU), is a regional branding initiative, and third-party certification for farms and local food purveyors across the Delmarva Peninsula of DE, MD, and VA, [that] seeks to increase the economic opportunities for farmers, and businesses that are committed to supporting local agriculture. While many vendors, farm stands, and restaurants claim to sell local foods, the CDG logo ensures that those products are, in-fact, produced on local farms.”

Samantha Campbell liked the idea.

To say the least, the dinner was an excellent exercise in “Civic Engagement”, as community members bought tickets and attended to support local farmers and their locally grown products.  Amazingly, some attendees might be considered to be disparate partners.

In my usual way, I’ve had the subject of “two sides” in the back of my mind for a couple of months and found others who’ve had the same thought.  I like to mull things over in my mind for a little while before taking on a new idea.  Addressing within the community, the inequities of the modern industrial chicken production explosion, on the Delmarva Peninsula, with no regard for the consequences on neighborhoods and the community, is a subject that needs addressing.

As many know, the “chicken explosion”, so to speak, is highly contentious at its best, on a good day.  Encouragement by the chicken companies for the explosion of absentee owner, no land chicken McMansion developments, has been a “too bad for you” situation within communities.  Attempts to address the situation are pushed off to a mouthpiece organization for the industry which in reality has no place in the mix because it has supported these developments at every turn.

The idea was further brought home to me by a reporter looking to perpetuate a false narrative of a Hatfield’s and McCoy’s like situation between community groups and contract chicken farmers.  The need for this type of story is to enforce the argument by another mouthpiece supposedly representing farmers.  This organization represents corporate agriculture interests although it takes money from the farmers for “dues” but in no way cares about the actual farmer.  Claiming any opposition to a chicken McMansion being in the neighbor’s face as being “anti-farmer” is another false narrative and has no place in the mix.

The industry and communities need to have meaningful dialogue between one another, inclusive to all affected.  Direct, honest, and respectful communication could very easily solve some of the issues. Resentments would have to be left at the door and regardless of one’s own thoughts and beliefs, tolerance of another’s thoughts and beliefs in order to actually hear, not just listen, has to be the order of the day.

Antimicrobial Resistance on the Rise Worldwide

Sometimes I read things and shake my head, thinking sarcastically to myself, REALLY?  A recent study by a group of worldwide scientists have introduced a map of “hot spots” for antimicrobial resistance in animals in low to middle income countries.  The study indicates that bacteria resistant to antibiotics is on the rise worldwide.

To clarify my use of the word’s antimicrobial and antibiotic in the same sentence, they are basically the same thing excepting that antimicrobials are used for a few more things than just bacteria.  I’m using the words interchangeably, in this post.

To be precise, antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines. Bacteria, not humans, become antibiotic resistant. These bacteria may then infect humans and are harder to treat than non-resistant bacteria. Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs to treat infections caused by other microbes as well, such as parasites, malaria, viruses, HIV and fungi, according to the World Health Organization.

A recent article in Science, a publication of the American Association For The Advancement of Science, delves into the study and reports the development of an index to track the evolution of resistance to multiple drugs. Worldwide, the numbers have almost tripled for chicken and pigs over the last 20 years. Currently, researchers say that in chickens, almost half (.41) of drugs fail 50% of the time.  In, pigs, over one quarter of drugs (.34) fail 50% of the time.

According to the article, “the global scale-up in demand for animal protein is the most notable dietary trend of our time. Since 2000, meat production has plateaued in high-income countries but has grown by 68%, 64%, and 40% in Asia, Africa, and South America, respectively. The transition to high-protein diets in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) has been facilitated by the global expansion of intensive animal production systems in which antimicrobials are used routinely to maintain health and productivity”.

Furthermore, “73% of all antimicrobials sold on Earth are used in animals raised for food. A growing body of evidence has linked this practice with the rise of antimicrobial resistant infections, not just in animals but also in humans. Beyond potentially serious consequences for public health, the reliance on antimicrobials to meet demand for animal protein is a likely threat to the sustainability of the livestock industry”.

Now I shake my head.  This is not news in the sense that the conversation over antibiotic resistance and the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in animal production for food has been in play for decades.  I feel like saying “no kidding, we learned this in kindergarten”.  The statistics are staggering however we will continue to debate the issue, worldwide, because industry will deny the science and say it’s not sound, inadequate, or bias. In the United States, we’ve been down this road and the debate was fierce despite the mounting evidence.

What baffles me is why the conversation hasn’t included the method of raising the animals which could be the root cause for the need to heavily dose livestock with antimicrobials.  Could it be the heavily concentrated confinement production system of raising animals provides a breeding ground for bacteria, parasites, viruses, and others?  Could it be that continual dosing of animals before they’ve even had a chance to contract anything that might need antibiotic treatment is an effort to prevent diseases that are sure to come given the way the animals are raised?

Antibiotics and antimicrobials are enablers for the unsustainable system of industrial animal production therefore we don’t address the root cause.  It’s big business folks.  Take chickens for example, since they have the highest incidence rate of drug resistance or antibiotic treatment failure worldwide.

In one industrial sized chicken McMansion, on average, each broiler chicken is provided .67 square feet of living space for their entire short life of 6 to 7 weeks.  I often use the analogy to put into perspective – the area is less than 1 sheet of paper 8 1/2 x 11 inches or .935 square feet. The new chicken McMansions can hold up to 50,000 chickens.  I generally have school age people stand in a group, each on a sheet of paper to demonstrate what it would be like.  If you are able, imagine that space keeping you confined where you eat, drink, sit, stand, sleep, defecate and urinate for 6 to 7 weeks.  Do you think that you might get sick?  Are bacteria and other microbes, parasites, and viruses breeding to infect all of you or some of you?  Do you think you need a heavy dose of antibiotics?

Treating with antimicrobials might solve the immediate problem and dosing before the animals get sick might prevent illnesses…. but then again, the treatment might NOT work.  It’s akin to playing Russian Roulette.  All the while unseen things are happening like bacteria and other things becoming resistant to the drugs and jeopardizing humans to where antibiotic resistance takes hold.

All in all, and I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, unintended consequences arise in the unsustainable and heavily concentrated industrial animal production system.

Experts agree that antibiotics and antimicrobials have become enablers for this system to survive. 

Regulations have curtailed industry practices of antibiotic use in some countries.  However, some of the same players in the industry can be found practicing the very thing that they are well aware of in low to middle income countries where curtailing of these practices hasn’t caught up with them.  From my experience’s over the years with the poultry production industry they are globally playing by the same old rule book.  Do it until we are told that we can’t.  It makes dollars and cents to follow the rule book.

There is much more to learn from the study if you are so inclined to do so.

Tyson grants contract chicken grower’s a “Bill of Rights”. Really?

A friend sent me a news article from Watt Ag Net over the weekend about Tyson Foods launching a contract grower’s Bill of Rights and I had to laugh, uproariously.  My first thought was that it’s very presumptuous of the chicken company to imply that American citizens Bill of Rights and its guarantees come from Tyson.   Wow, how much kinder can one get?

The bill of rights that Tyson is granting to the farmers the company contracts with to grow chickens is supposed to be an eight-point promise for its farmers.  Supposedly other initiatives are included which are “aimed at promoting a more transparent growing process and better communication” between the company and roughly 3,600 independent contract growers.

If you’ve noticed that I emboldened the word “independent” it’s for a reason.  Many don’t know that the farms that contract with companies, such as Tyson, don’t belong to the company, they belong to the individual holding the mortgage payments and they are NOT employees of the company.  That single fact invalidates any claim to granting a “bill of rights” to individual persons who just happen to have a contract to grow the company chickens.  The relationship between those people and the chicken company is for the purpose of raising company owned chickens to a marketable age. Period!

Changing the wording from “bill of rights” to “pledge” the company goes on to say that a full copy of the “pledge” is available on the Tyson website.

Graciously, Tyson is pledging the following:

  1. The right to a written contract
  2. The right to information detailing how much they are paid
  3. The right to discuss their contract with outside parties
  4. The right to a fixed-length contract that can only be terminated for cause
  5. The right for the poultry farmer to terminate the contract with Tyson Foods for any reason or no reason at all by giving a 90-day prior written notice for broilers and turkeys, and a 60-day written notice prior to scheduled removal of poultry from farmers housing for hens and pullets.
  6. The right to join an association of contract poultry farmers
  7. The right to poultry welfare standards and training on poultry welfare standards
  8. The right to tell Tyson first, or freely contact the company with concerns

Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but the so called “pledge” is a nothing burger.  Most of the above is anyone’s rights under the law and it’s not up to Tyson or any other company to decided that it will pledge these rights to the people it contracts with.

Number 4 is a tricky one and as I always say, it’s all in the words, folks!  Fixed length contracts have been around for a while and can be terminated for “cause”.  There’s the word that makes it the company’s decision, anytime.  It’s already been decided by the courts that for a contract grower to show harm (wrongful termination of contract, etc.) that person must show overall harm to the entire industry.  Secondly, a fixed-length contract is not a guarantee of receiving chickens to raise from the company.

Number 5 should say that the grower can terminate the contract only for cause.  Just like the company clause for contract termination.  Instead there are a number of requirements for the contact grower to terminate the contract for the reason of allowing the company to make advanced preparations to place their chickens elsewhere.

The right to join an association of contract poultry farmers, number 6, is the one that I found to be so funny.  For years contract growers have claimed retaliation by chicken companies for participating in “grower associations”.  Some have reported threats made by company personnel for even thinking about joining grower associations.  Of course, chicken companies have vehemently denied retaliatory actions, but I have to wonder if this new pledge by Tyson is saying that they will NOW allow contract growers to join grower associations and no longer retaliate.  For those of you not familiar how this subject works, bluntly said, historically contract growers have been bullied, threatened (sometimes not so nicely), intimidated, and had contracts terminated for being a member of any unapproved by the company, grower association.  Especially if you’re a vocal member.  It’s really, really, REALLY, benevolent of Tyson to say it’s okay for contract growers to join any association they want to.  Under the U.S. Bill of Rights, the First Amendment gives people the right to peaceably assemble, sorry Tyson,  it’s the law!

Poultry welfare standards are a CYA by the company.  In order for the company to be exonerated from any allegations of animal abuse they must say that they have a poultry welfare policy.  This statement in the company pledge gives Tyson an out for any wrongdoing.  The company can now claim that it’s the contract grower at fault because the company has a pledge of providing welfare standards and training.  Most chicken companies already do this.

Number 8 is the killer of it all.  The right to tell Tyson first, or freely contact the company with concerns.

There go those words again, folks!  Carefully read the clause again.  It means that if you have any concerns with company behavior, treatment, animal welfare, environmental and public health, or even if you have a tooth ache, etc., you tell the company first.  Don’t call USDA Packers and Stockyards Administration for violations of the law, don‘t tell the press, don’t allow any camera’s on the farm, don’t call any environmental, public health, or animal welfare organizations, and for lord’s sake don’t tell your dog.

If the company makes contract growers sign this pledge, or any document related to this pledge, that contract grower will be bound by it.  The pledge will be an addendum to the contract or called company policy.  If the contract grower violates any of the signed pledge it will be “cause” for contract termination.  However, it might be questionable as to whether this pledge or any related documents can be forcibly imposed upon a person.

Lastly, who in the hell does Tyson and its Einstein’s think that they are?  Telling people what their rights are and saying that the company will grant those rights.  Really?  Another ploy to rope people in so they will think that they are investing millions of dollars into chicken house developments so they can raise chickens for such a kindhearted chicken company.

As Predicted Chicken Expansion on Delmarva Proves Disastrous

Over the past couple of years, the chicken industry has attracted many new immigrants into the Delmarva Peninsula and encouraged the building of chicken warehouses on mega sized zero land operations.  Monetary “incentive bonuses” offered by companies to those caught up in the building frenzy are an added inducement.  The zero land operations are chicken warehouses, built from property line to property line, leaving no land unused to spread the exorbitant amount of waste that’s produced by theses facilities.

The industry expansion is so huge that state cost share programs are broke.  The cost share programs, funded by taxpayers, were supposed to clean up the industrial waste left behind by the industry and that is polluting the waters of the Chesapeake.  The programs were never designed to support manure disposal from the large expansion that has been allowed to occur thusly utilizing all of the funds long before all of the mega operations can tap into them.  It has gotten so bad that the Maryland Department of Environment is bypassing regulations and allowing the mega structures to be built without the normally required manure disposal plans as well as the dead chicken disposal requirements.  There are no taxpayer dollars left to fund adherence of the regulations before the chicken warehouses can be built.

The warehouses, one building being as large as 43,500 square feet in size housing as many as 49,500 chickens each flock, are not the norm that we are used to seeing on the peninsula.  Some of the operations contain up to 50 of these warehouses.  These are not farms they are part of the mass production assembly line in order to, as the industry claims, feed the world.  Unfortunately, the world only takes care of the end product, the highly processed cheap chicken meat, leaving all of the waste behind for good old American taxpayers to foot the bill for cleanup.  Not only do we fund the waste cleanup, we also fund the process of dead chicken disposal.

Powers that be in counties on the peninsula have wholeheartedly welcomed the expansion in spite of loud objections voiced by residents.  No consideration has been given to environmental and public health, and water and land, issues raised or to the plain ordinary fact that every U.S. citizen has the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There are not very many happy citizens who have had these warehouses dropped into their communities denying them the right to simple enjoyment of their property.  Many cannot go outside of their homes without suffering the stench, ammonia emissions, dust, flies, and many other offensive and unhealthy by-products produced from these mega operations.

Recently it was brought to my attention that the long-time contract chicken farmers in our communities are starting to feel the heat from the industry expansion.  Demands of upgrades to existing chicken housing or building of new warehouses is the first step to driving these farmers out of business.  It’s standard operating procedure by industry to accommodate the new mega operations that are now online and quite frankly the long-time farms that have supported the industry for many years are no longer needed.  Get big or get out is the usual message.

Huge investments, including putting the entire homestead on the line, were made by the long-time farmers.  Many of them have been on the land for generations.  Existing contract chicken farmers will either have to go back to their local lending institution for funds that will increase existing mortgages enabling them to adhere to industry demands or they can opt out of the demands and lose the contract, and in turn lose the farm.  There is no recourse for promises made in the past by industry.  Not much of a choice for those who’ve already invested millions, if not billions, in the industry.  Not a very nice thank you for supporting the companies!

People in wealthy communities that have seen proposed plans for a next-door neighbor mega chicken operation stopped it in its tracks by offering a higher price for the land to be sold.  Ironically a neighbor in that same community is none other than the long-time leader of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. (DPI), a local industry trade union.  I personally have seen and heard this very same fearless leader expound on the virtues of the industry expansion, convincing the powers that be to ignore the citizens objections.

What I don’t understand is why this person didn’t want a mega chicken warehouse community next door.  Especially since part of the expounding referred to a “good neighbor policy” written by the trade union. Humorously, or maybe not, the DPI “Good Neighbor Policy” is a waste of good paper.  It’s not enforceable.  The trade union has no business or influence in contracts made between chicken companies and independent contract farmers.  Unfortunately, our illustrious officials believed that the useless policy solved any concerns and was somehow an insurance of community happiness.

It remains to be seen where the disastrous consequences from the industry expansion will end.  Much ado has been made by the powers that be about dollars and cents generated.  Recently I heard one of our illustrious local congressional members say it all supports a “healthy business climate in Maryland”.  No mention was made about supporting the existing business climate or supporting public and environmental health for our communities.  I think that these types of comments pretty well sum up the fact that chickens and dollars are much more important than people.

Eggs and Philosophy

Undercover Video reveals a not so pretty picture

A recent undercover video taken by Direct Action Everywhere and released on the Now This facebook page shows the worst of the worst about hens involved in egg laying.

The video made me sick and I’ve a message for industrial agriculture – “clean up your act”.  The conditions of the hens and the environment they are living in are horrific.  It’s actors such as this that make it hard for those of us who don’t even think about animal husbandry being such as what is revealed in the video.  Animal agriculture is going to have to start standing up and condemning these types of practices and behaviors.  Don’t make excuses, own it, and fix it!

The hard truth and what makes the point of rubber stamping for humane practices an armed weapon for those opposed to animal agriculture is that this particular farm is “Certified Humane”, a project of Humane Farm Animal Care.  According to the organizations website, the program certifies products from farm animals that meet program standards related to practices required in the raising of the animals. Farms and ranches are monitored annually and may use the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® logo. Charges levied are to cover inspections and program costs which include promotional materials which help promote the products of the producers that are Certified Humane®.  Trust me folks, the fees applied aren’t cheap and certification predominately include large numbers of animals produced.

The organization has a “Humane Farm Animal Care Scientific Committee”, presumably who develop the standards that farmers and ranchers must meet for certification.  The Committee has some heavy hitters participating on it and I must wonder, what in the world they were thinking when they lent their names to something that doesn’t even come close to the definition of “humane practices”.

I can’t continue without describing the organization responsible for the undercover video, Direct Action Everywhere, is a network of animal rights activists claiming chapters in 160 cities in over 30 countries.  The organization, developed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013.  It operates on the theory of “speciesism”.

Getting Educated about Speciesism

I’m not big on giving out labels or definitive categories so I had to do some research on this one.  The term delves deeply into the realm of philosophy.    According to Wikipedia speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences.  Broadly speaking in the world of animal activism it means the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the rights, freedoms, and protections afforded to humans.  June 5 is considered to be World Day Against Speciesism.  Who knew?

Without delving too deep into the topic of speciesism, it appears to me that it means every living thing is equal and has equal rights, no matter human or non-human.  I’m assuming if you don’t believe in this equality or you behave against the principal theory you are akin to a racist or sexist. I dunno, sounds good!

Of course agenda motivation is the driving force behind the video, why else would it be undercover?  Was it for the purpose of exposing Humane Farm Animal Care and name lending to a rubber stamping of the “Certified Humane” label?  Was it to expose the bad behavior of industrial agriculture?  Or was it a push toward the public to support veganism and animal rights? I think it’s all of the above.

On the other hand, what can be the excuses from industrial agriculture.  Historically industry will repeat all of the things listed above and describe the people taking the video as terrorists. They’ll say that the particular farm and the conditions revealed wasn’t like that when it was audited for humane standards and certification. My question would be, what changed in the farming practices between the standards audit and everyday practices?  Is it business as usual except when the humane farm animal standards audit is conducted?

No matter what your belief about what you eat, what is revealed in the undercover video is just plain wrong.  It doesn’t take a room full of philosophers or theorizers to figure it out.  You decide!

Perdue’s Commits to Improve the Lives of Chickens

Like waiting for the dust to settle I’ve been allowing my first gut reaction to calm over the chicken buzz about Perdue and its monumental step toward improving the lives of chickens. Perdue announced its commitment to improved animal welfare in the raising, transporting, and slaughtering of the company’s chickens.

The company commitment centers around a published company document “Perdue Foods, Commitment to Animal Care 2016 and Beyond”.  Amongst all of the hoopla surrounding the big news, the company says that it will chart its progress based on the Five Freedoms which is claimed to be “A Global Standard For Animal Husbandry”.

The Five Freedoms was developed in Europe in 1965, and formalized by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979 standard for animal husbandry.  The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council provided opinions and advice to Governmental entities and ceased to exist in 2011.  It resurfaced that same year as the Farm Animal Welfare Committee serving the same role as its predecessor.  According to the UK Government Archives the “Five Freedoms” are:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  1. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  1. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  1. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  1. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

In addition to the Five Freedoms, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee also wrote in an opinion to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, England, Chief Veterinary Officer, Scottish Government, and the Chief Veterinary Officer, Welsh Government that ~

The concept of sustainability must include the welfare of farm animals. Indeed, livestock agriculture cannot be considered sustainable if an animal’s life is not worth living”.

In my humble opinion, the “Five Freedoms” are very basic things that any human should provide for the animals they own no matter if it’s livestock or pets.  If this action is called monumental I hate to think about the conditions that the chickens lived in before this monumental announcement.  Yes indeedy folks, it’s wonderful that a multi-national chicken corporation has learned the basics of animal care however I have to say that I hope none of those Perdue folks have animals at home.

Some animal welfare organizations have lauded Perdue for its announcement but have also conveyed a “we will see” approach, and I agree.  If anyone truly transforms from the status quo in the method of raising industrial chickens, they deserve to be lauded.   As much as I would love to think that the day for change in industrial chicken production has finally come, I’m still a doubting Thomas.

I believe that public opinion has induced Perdue to take a step toward improved animal welfare.  2 Years ago I conducted a marketing analysis of my own customer’s to identify consumer preferences in purchasing my eggs.  Animal welfare (how the animals are raised) was the number one reason for product purchasing.  Certification by a transparent and independent third party was at the top as well.  In my case it’s Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) that audits my farm annually and certifies that I meet all of the written and published standards.  The standards are the most stringent in the country.  Consumers have become more aware of where their food comes from and how it was produced and these concerns have risen to the top of the list of purchasing decisions.

What was a niche market for products raised humanely has now become a market to capture.  This not only resonates in the United States but worldwide.  The World Bank has a statement about animal welfare based on the “Five Freedoms” and looks favorably for investing in livestock production (especially pigs and chickens) with corporations that have a “Five Freedoms” animal welfare policy.

Since I’m talking about policy at the moment I’ll bring us back to Perdue.  Most everyone knows that the farmers that the company contracts with to raise its chickens, known as contract growers, have no control over the policies set by the company.  They have to follow what the company says.  For the life of me I can’t ever remember receiving a policy handbook from the company in the 23 years we raised chickens as contract growers.  I distinctly do remember being given a verbal edict many times from the company about how to raise the chickens followed up with “it’s company policy”.  Although I asked for a copy of the company policy handbook, I was ignored and didn’t receive it.

In the monumental announcement the company says it will listen more to the farmers it contracts with.  Perdue also has finally written down on paper and published its intentions of improving the lives of chickens.  Although vague, the document does say that the company will operate off of the “Five Freedoms”.  Since transparency is involved in the monumental announcement I’d like to see specifics from the company of exactly what it means.

A few days ago, the New York Times ran a story “ Perdue Aims to Make Chickens Happier and More Comfortable pretty much writing the same things that every other news source was saying.  Ironically, a little under a year ago, the New York Times ran a story Perdue Sharply Cuts Antibiotic Use in Chickens and Jabs at Its Rivals talking about the company product of “no antibiotics ever”.  About half of the company’s chickens are labeled and sold under the “no antibiotics ever” claim.

My first thought is that yesterday the company transformed into a company that gave consumers what they were asking for (no antibiotics) and today Perdue will be violating item number 3 of the “Five Freedoms” by not treating a sick animal just because it needs to be sold under the “no antibiotics ever” label.

You can’t claim it both ways without violating one or the other claims.  I guess whichever method “Five Freedoms” or “No Antibiotics Ever” will be decided by the profits the company reaps.  So much for the monumental step the company has taken.

The challenge for consumers will be in figuring out which brand under the FPP Family Investments umbrella, owned by the Perdue Family, fits which claim the headlines are shouting.

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