Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Archive for the ‘Industrialized Food Production’ Category

Black Listed

A recent Meating Place post called Animal AG Watch and entitled “Prepare for increased activist activity in wake of Liberation Conference”,  by Hannah Thompson, put the meat industry and animal agriculture industry on high alert ahead of the Animal Liberation Conference held at Berkeley, CA May 23 – May 29, 2018.  Thompson, the communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, tells readers that anyone with farms or [processing] plants in the Berkeley area to be on “high alert” and “prepare to be targeted”.

According to the vegan website Humane Decisions, “The 2018 Animal Liberation Conference, co-hosted by Direct Action Everywhere and The Save Movement, is planned to be the largest grassroots animal rights conference in U.S. history.”  Thompson says that “according to organizers, over 500 people are set to attend the event”.

From those descriptions it sounds like a war is about to take place.

First and foremost, and to set the record straight, from my point of view, veganism is a personal choice.  Anyone choosing and/or supporting the lifestyle shouldn’t be condemned for their personal choice.   Each to their own, I say!

Secondly, 500 people is not a gigantic representation, earth shattering, or something to go down in the annals of U.S. history.  It surely doesn’t warrant a national security alert.

It was a really busy day, when I first read Thompson’s post, I didn’t pay a lot of attention and put it down to the 2 sides taking swipes at one another.  Nothing unusual about that.  When I had some quiet time, I mulled it over in my mind and paid a revisit.  Looking at the writers past posts I quickly realized that the industry group, Animal Agriculture Alliance, had a “thing” about what it calls animal activist groups.

Digging further into this “thing” I came across what looks like a black list of organizations giving me the impression that a broadly painted picture encompassed several groups that I’m very familiar with. From experience I know them not to be enemies of the state, that being vegans with an agenda.

None of the groups that I know, some personally, warrant a national security alert for the industry or much less raising a “high alert” for farms and plants as a “target”.  One such group listed is Animal Welfare Approved (AWA).

AWA is about farm animal welfare promoting high welfare standards for farm animals.  There is nothing that says you can’t raise animals for food, you have to become a vegan, and oh by the way, you must target farms and plants.  Target them how, I’m not sure.

Actually, my farm became AWA certified when I transitioned from an industrial contract farm to an independently owned pasture raised egg farm.  I’ll admit that the standards set forth by AWA for raising farm animals is the most stringent in the country.  My transition took me from one end of the spectrum to the total opposite end of the spectrum and is exactly what I wanted to do.  It’s all about the welfare of the animals raised on a pasture-based system and effects on the environment and public health.  After an annual farm audit, AWA certifies farms adhering to its standards allowing the farm to use the AWA label on their products.

Another such example is Farm Animal Concerns Trust or FACT  that “promotes the safe and humane production of meat, milk, and eggs, and envisions that all food-producing animals will be raised in a healthy and humane manner so that everyone will have access to safe and humanely-produced food in communities across the country”.

Starting out I had wide open pastures.  I received a grant from FACT to build outdoor shelters and resting places for my hens as well as planting trees and bushes for a more natural outdoor living environment.  Doing this also gave the hens safety or hiding place should flying predators visit.  There was nothing in the grant agreement that said I had to target other farms or processing plants or become a vegan.

These are two examples of the many that I’m familiar with.

DEFEATING THE PURPOSE

What I’ve realized is that the Animal Agriculture Alliance has come up with a black list of enemies encompassing everyone who disagrees with the industrial agriculture model and its negative impacts.  No matter what the disagreement is!  Kinda like if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them.

Admittedly, there are some organizations, who in my opinion, cross way over the line in attempts to get their message across.  En masse actions of invading or taking over one’s private property such as farms and grocery stores or setting animals loose is defeating the purpose.  Others observing such actions don’t get the message they put it down to a bunch of radicals doing stupid things.

I suppose that the participating organizations don’t get the fact that farm animals roaming freely are put in danger from many different things out there in the big ole wide world.  Think of things such as predators, vehicles, or animals panicking.  Has any one of them ever witnessed a cattle stampede? I have and let me say that many cattle were horribly injured and had to be euthanized.  Is this the goal of such groups?  What message was conveyed?

In 2016 the Animal Agriculture Alliance came up with some maps supposedly connecting all of the enemy organizations with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in the center. The catalyst I suppose.  There are even names of people who I guess are the bad guys linked to organizations, which by the way are wrong. I had to laugh when I looked at the maps because personally I know that some of the linked organizations don’t even talk to one another let alone work together.  Whoever did the “research” on the bad guys wasn’t worth the money that the Animal Agriculture Alliance forked out.  I mean really, if your gonna do it, do it right!

All of this hoopla appears to be a reoccurring theme with the animal agriculture industry.  Everyone wants to end the production of animals for food is their paranoia.  They might be the only game in town when setting up shop to take advantage of poor rural America but they’re not the only game in town when in comes to raising farm animals for food.  Experience has shown me that there are much better ways to do it, despite industry black lists.

Black listing can be a dangerous path to walk.  False accusations discredit any message one might be attempting to convey.

Activist Web 2 (1)

Activist Web 2

MapActivist Web 2

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!

History Repeats Itself

Denial of bathroom use at forefront of poultry worker complaints

A friend sent me a post from the U.S. Department of Labor blog to settle a friendly dispute over poultry processing works rights and free access to the bathroom. I was adamant in my belief that poultry workers had “at need access” in using a bathroom because this same abuse was fought at least 15 years ago by a community organization I worked for, the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance (DPJA). I’m going back to the late 1990’s – early 2000’s.

At that time the basic right of workers using a bathroom was denied because it would slow down or stop the processing line. To do so would cost the company dollars and in their greed stopping the line was not an option.

I was shocked to learn that people were denied use of the bathroom and I couldn’t fathom urinating on one’s self. I doubt that most of us could identify with such conditions, let alone being the one to say “no you can’t use the bathroom”. Unfortunately, my tenure as the executive director of DPJA brought many such shocks, and not to discount other serious issues, right now, I’m taking about using the bathroom.

No poultry company on the Delmarva Peninsula was immune from the complaints made by their workers. Stories from the workers encompassed many complaints such as urinating on their selves, pregnant workers being denied bathroom use as needed, and break time lines for bathroom use so long that the ten minutes allowed for a break were eaten up just standing in line waiting to use a toilet.

From the industry point of view, excuses were made such as workers abused bathroom breaks, no alternate or fill in workers were available to replace a worker leaving the line, and they get a ten-minute break to use the bathroom. Company flat out denial of worker complaints was the most used response.

Any worker who complained to supervisors or company powers that be, very quickly found their selves out the door. As most workers were undocumented immigrants, fear of reprisals kept them quiet. From my point of view I found it as being a method of control and exploitation.

As a matter of fact, DPJA lead a protest in Georgetown, DE, in front of one Delmarva poultry processing plant to deliver a letter to the company owner as an informational method of complaints by workers for abuses occurring inside the plant. The protest involved community members, church leaders, workers, and alliance members. Denial of bathroom use was one of the worker’s complaints. Afterwards workers reported that some things had changed and that those abusing basic human rights for workers were no longer there.

Fast forward to 2016

From all indications and as much as I hate to say it, my friend is correct. I have to concede to her as the winner of our debate. What a hollow victory! It boggles my mind to think that the very same issue is once again at the forefront of poultry processing plant worker’s complaints. Did industry learn nothing or is it a matter of continuing with a bad legacy until caught? I’m not particularly fond of the saying, “history repeats itself”, especially when it is a not so good history.

“For some workers, a simple trip to the bathroom could result in the loss of a job. Poultry-processing workers are sometimes disciplined for taking bathroom breaks while at work because there is no one available to fill in for them if they step away from the production line. Some workers have reported that they wear diapers and restrict liquid intake in an effort to avoid using the bathroom. No one should have to work under these conditions. All workers have a right to a safe workplace, and that includes access to readily available sanitary restroom facilities on the job. Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, and readily accessible restrooms are only one of many problems that workers in this industry face.” Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Although this blog post was written back in July 2016, it’s relevant to the debate between my friend and I. She further burst my bubble with a link to a 2015 report published by Oxfam America. After reading it I thought to myself that nothing has changed. Over all of the time that passed between my employment at DPJA to the 2015 Oxfam report the simple basic human right of using the bathroom is being denied by employers in the poultry industry.

Coming from a common sense point of view, it’s obvious that denial of bathroom use is blatant and those practicing the behavior are unashamed. I think it takes a seriously disturbed person to find amusement in the behavior indicated in the Oxfam report.

“Routinely, poultry workers say, they are denied breaks to use the bathroom. Supervisors mock their needs and ignore their requests; they threaten punishment or firing. Workers wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline.” Quote from Oxfam America report, “No Relief, Denial of Bathroom Breaks In The Poultry Industry

For poultry workers having to come forward and speak about the goings on inside processing plants must be a humiliating experience. I, myself, wouldn’t want to have to tell anyone that I wear a diaper to work or that I defecate or urinate on myself while working. I can’t imagine!

Where are those who would ensure such a basic right? This type of abuse should not be tolerated by poultry company owners, stockholders, or consumers. Obviously, our government is aware of the situation, what is being done about it? We are supposed to be a civilized society. Is the processing of one more chicken, in the millions that are slaughtered every day, more important?

This subject started as a friendly debate and has turned in to a feeling of outrage. Again! I’m sure that I’ll write plenty more on this subject as I digest all that I’ve read. What does it take to end a vicious cycle of history repeating itself?

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.

Profits Before People?

A friend shared a news story with me that appeared in the Bay Journal “EPA sued over inaction on factory farm air pollution”. Although an old story from 2015, my friend wanted me to see it because it mentions the Chesapeake watershed and Maryland CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations). The CAFO’s in Maryland are, of course, chicken house developments on the Eastern Shore.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Environmental Integrity Project are part of a coalition of environment, animal welfare, and community health organizations bringing the suit and saying that EPA has not done its duty in protecting citizens.

It kinda ticked me off that the EPA has to be sued to do its job. Aren’t they there for the purpose of protecting American citizens? Don’t we pay their salaries through the many tax dollars we shell out to the federal government each year? I sat here and shook my head thinking, so what else is new.

The groups involved in the law suit filed petitions in 2009 and 2011 asking EPA to set national ambient air quality standards for ammonia, which can be harmful to farm laborers, chickens, and neighboring homes. It can also be harmful to the farmer that breathes it every day. Ammonia is at the crux of the issue which is built up in chicken houses from the concentrations of the number of animals housed. The buildup of ammonia is released into the atmosphere through huge fans that exchange the air on the inside of the chicken houses. While ammonia can’t be seen with the naked eye, it’s quite evident, when watching the fans come on in a CAFO, to see a huge plume of dust shoot out and drift into the atmosphere. There are many things in that plume which can be harmful however we will focus on ammonia.

A while back in 2008 and 2009, I worked on a project that measured the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emitted from CAFO’s on the Delmarva Peninsula, including Accomack County, VA up through Sussex County, DE. The farms were mapped using GPS as identification and the measured emissions noted. Some of the CAFO’s in the Backbone Corridor Neighborhood Association’s neck of the woods in Princess Anne, MD, I went back and quadruple checked to make sure that the readings I was recording were accurate.

In a meeting with representatives from environmental groups and a representative of EPA I showed the EPA representative a few of the findings. I remember that he was somewhat miffed at me because I wouldn’t give the name of the owner of the farms only the GPS location of the readings. At that time I asked for the EPA to conduct a more in depth study to verify what I’d found. We went our separate ways and I never heard another word about the issue.

Under the Clean Water Act, CAFO’s are required to have a discharge permit for runoff into our waterways. Under the Clean Air Act no permit is required for emissions. One would think that it would be common sense for any facility emitting noxious gases into the air would have to report type of gas, amounts, and have a permit to do so.

Looking further in to the issue, from a public health aspect, it’s a no brainer that the gases polluting the air from CAFO’s would create serious health problems. Keeve Nachman, director of Food Production and Public Health at Johns Hopkins Center For A Livable Future verifies this. He says that the health problems don’t just stem from ammonia emissions but from the cumulative consequences of the gases, particulate matter and pathogens. “Taken together, living close to one of these things [CAFO’s], put’s one’s health at risk. EPA is not interested to take measurements or survey for adverse health effects.”

Further research reveals that avian influenza has been shown to travel on the wind after the air is exhausted from fans in poultry houses, according to information obtained from the U.S. National Library of Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With all of the public health, environmental health, and animal health and welfare implications, why hasn’t EPA or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services researched further to protect the public? Are the government agencies protecting industry rather than the public?

It’s quite a knot to untangle the whys and wherefores of the issue and gives me a headache just thinking about it. Given history and the power involved I imagine we will be bogged down in a quagmire of hearings, excuses, and untruth and the matter will never be addressed. Knowing all of this, I still have to wonder how profits before people are more important.

Why The Need For A Farmers Rights Act?

On February 5, 2016 Maryland Senators Madaleno, Lee, Manno and Pinsky introduced legislation in the Senate known as the Farmers Rights Act (SB761).  The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

A companion bill (HB 1496) was introduced in the Maryland House of Representatives on February 12, 2016 by Delegates Washington, Carr, Frush, Gutierrez, Kelly, Lam, Moon, Morales, Melnyk, Robinson, Smith, and Tarlau.  It was referred to the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

The House Committee hearing is scheduled for today and the Senate Committee hearing is scheduled for March 9, 2016.

The legislation aims to provide farmers certain measures of protection in dealing with large companies that contract with them to produce company owned livestock.  Most of this country’s chicken (97 percent) and hogs are raised under production contracts.

Understanding the nature of the beast, so to speak, is important to understanding the need for protections for farmers.

Most U.S. broiler (meat chicken) production is under contract with a broiler processor (chicken company). The grower (farmer) supplies the chicken house with all the necessary heating, cooling, feeding, and watering systems. The grower also supplies the labor needed in growing the birds. The broiler processor supplies the chicks, feed, and medications. The chicken company transports its chickens from the farm to the processing plant. In most cases, the company supplies the crews who catch the chickens for transportation to the company slaughter plant.  This is known as vertical integration whereby the company owns everything from embryo to market shelf.

On average, off-farm income accounts for half of the total household income earned by contract growers (USDA Economic Research Service). While millions of dollars are invested by farmers in land, housing, and equipment it is not an investment with a return that can support a family.  It has been said by farmers that collectively they invest at least half of the capital needed in the poultry industry.  Many sources say that over 70 percent of contract farmers earn a below poverty level income from the chickens they raise for companies.

Many contract farmers feel that they don’t have equal power in the relationship between company and farmer although they have huge investments. The cost of 1 new chicken house today is approximately $380,000.  While contracts are clear in saying that the farmer provides a service to the company, things get confusing and muddled with the company control of that service provided.  Looking further into the contract, the price paid to the farmer for his/her service is an epic conundrum.

At the heart of it all is that everything relies on “good faith”.  As a matter of fact the Farmers Rights Act begins by saying “For the purpose of establishing that certain contracts for the production of livestock impose a certain obligation of good faith on all parties;”.

Payment to farmers relies on pounds of broiler meat moved from the farm versus costs acquired to raise the flock of chickens.  Based on the “good faith” of the company that weights stated are actual and true, is a good place to start.  Was the company feed truck that delivered company feed to the farm really delivering the amount of feed stated?  Were the weights stated for the chickens that moved off the farm by the company truck and weighed on the company scales, actual?  Many growers question this?

Part of the “good faith” related to the Maryland legislation is that many times companies demand upgrades to poultry housing and equipment.  Farmers bear the burden of cost for the upgrades adding to an already extreme shortage of cash flow on the farm.  The contract is used in the process with a promise from the company that the contract will be terminated if the farmer doesn’t comply.

Although it’s questionable as to whether a service contract can be controlled by the party receiving the service insofar as what the service provider uses to accomplish the service, which with chickens the service is to raise them to a marketable weight.

Forcing a farmer to continually add debt on top of existing debt comes with no guarantee that the company will continue to contract with the farmer.  Contracts have been terminated and the service provider (farmer) is left with no way pay the debt incurred because of the inducement by the company.

It could be further argued that when poultry houses are originally built it is done so accordingly to company specifications.  Those specifications change, frequently.

There exists an imbalance of power within the contract system and undue influence is held by companies over the farmer through the contract.

Good Faith is described as “an honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person”. 

However, contracts are nonnegotiable, designed by the company, and offered on a take it or leave it basis.  The “unfair advantage” is easily seen in the take it or leave it when the farmer has to take it to have chicks delivered to the farm by the company.  How else would the farmer service the debt?

Some of the imbalance in power is corrected with the Farmers Rights Act providing a mechanism for farmers to recapture capital investment and is something that will help curb company demands to spend more money based on a whim and induced by a contract.

Opponents of the legislation aren’t doing the chicken companies any favors.  If “Good Faith” exists as what’s being argued than they have nothing to worry about over the bill and it becoming law.  Unless, of course, “Good Faith” doesn’t really exist.