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

Archive for the ‘This & That’ Category

Oh, the tangled web we weave……..

There are times in our life where we get a reminder, of sorts, that we don’t know as much as we thought we knew.  This reminder came to me a week ago, kind of like a knock, knock on the side of my head, so to speak.  I felt foolish and asked myself how could I be that naivete. 

This knock, knock on the side of my head came with the announcement of a private ambient air monitoring study to be conducted on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Central Maryland. The private project partnership is between Delmarva Poultry Industry Incorporated (DPI) and The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment and will work with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).  A Memorandum of Understanding between the parties was signed on January 28, 2019.

On the face of things, it looks like a good project.  Right?  No, wrong, is the correct answer.  The study is an effort to undermine legislation introduced in Maryland’s House and Senate known as the Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA)  in order to delay public knowledge about what is emitted into the air that we breath coming from industrial chicken operations. 

The fox is guarding the hen house in this case.  The majority of people know that DPI is the industry trade Union whose mission, according to its website is “to be the Delmarva chicken industry’s voice as the premier membership association focusing on advocacy, education and member relations”.  DPI has vehemently opposed the CHAA, along with chicken industry companies and the Farm Bureau. 

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has been known to rubber stamp discharge permits for industrial chicken production facilities.  Legal challenges against some of these rubber-stamped permits have shown that MDE never did its homework before applying the rubber stamp and permits had to be withdrawn.  MDE has opposed CHAA from the get go along with the rest of the cartel.  It’s also no secret that Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan is opposed to the legislation.

Ironically, CHAA has no type of rules or regulations to be imposed upon the chicken industry and its concentrated production of the Delmarva Peninsula.  The legislation requires nothing from industry however it does require our state government do its job requiring MDE to monitor air emissions from industrial factory farms in Maryland and to assess their impacts on public health.  The monitoring would be a one-year study and would be completely transparent.  Results would be publicly available.  Transparent folks, not private.

When first we practice to deceive……

This is where the story gets interesting and when I had my dah ah moment.  The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment (KCF) came along……

I have to admit that I was stunned when I read the press reports about the relationship between DPI, MDE, and the Foundation.  Then I got mad.

Backing up a couple of years, Samantha Campbell, President of the KCF and daughter of Keith Campbell paid me a visit on the farm to see what I was doing with pasture raised hens for eggs and the transition out of contract chicken farming.  Although not unusual in most parts of the country, independent poultry farming that is good for the environment on Delmarva is not common.  Thus, the reason for her visit.  I didn’t go looking for her, didn’t apply for a grant from the foundation, and quite frankly had never heard of Samantha Campbell.  She came looking for me.

I have to say that she pulled the wool over my eyes.  I thought that she was truly interested in farming methods that significantly reduces or eliminates negative impacts to the environment and our waterways.  In our discussion about the chicken industry she expressed her concern for the communities affected by the industry as well as the negative impacts to our environment.  I’m always up for sharing and educating others about viable alternative methods of farming.  On the outside, Samantha Campbell appeared to be genuine.

“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.” 

Taken from the Keith Campbell Foundation website that says that they’ve hired a Program Director, for Civic Engagement under the Chesapeake Initiative.  Seems to me that the new program director forgot to include stakeholders for the air monitoring project.  You know, the community members who are trying to change the way they have to live.

I’ll be polite and say how disingenuous.  Those who know me, know that if I were being impolite, rudeness would rule.  Why in the world would a foundation spouting such platitudes team up with DPI to the tune of over $500,000 to fund a private study and have the fox, MDE, collecting the data and preparing the final report. 

In case you didn’t know, Samantha Campbell, hiding under the guise of a Foundation for the Environment and pretending to promote working together to improve the quality of life in the community isn’t done through a private study with the very industry that is making the community sick.  There’s no moral high ground for you to stand on when 1 in 4 middle school aged children have asthma in Wicomico County, Maryland.

Doing some further digging I’ve found that the Keith Campbell Foundation wouldn’t dare to bite the hand that feeds them.  According to the information I received, “the foundation funds are derived from the annual profits skimmed from Campbell Group/Campbell & Company” an investment management firm specializing in managed futures and cash equity strategies, hedge funds and the like.  In other words, tax shelter.  “Their client portfolio features varying interests that [are] truly embedded in some of the biggest wealth in the country”.  My source says that there is a “true unwillingness to antagonize publicly traded companies where “Campbell Group” in Towson is busily trading public securities”.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing the matter with making money.  It is wrong to be a poser who says that they care about the environment and civic engagement.  I find it very disappointing and sad that the very people who need civic engagement are being exploited to provide a platform for the Campbell Foundation to spout about what a do gooder it is for the community. 

CHAA provides the transparency needed to address a public health issue which is severely affecting eastern shore communities.  Especially the children who are the most vulnerable and defenseless.  While DPI, Keith Campbell Foundation, and MDE build up their stacks of money, power, and influence, the community has engaged on their own and won’t back down.  They find it to be their civic duty to find out what is in the air that is making their children, friends, and neighbors sick. What it all boils down to folks, is what is more important – money or the kids?

While I’ll end here for now, I’m not anywhere finished.  I’ve lots more research (digging) to do to expose the posers for what they are all about.  For now, we know that they are trying to stop CHAA.  Game on!

If you would like to initiate dialogue with Samantha Campbell you can contact her here – scampbell@campbellfoundation.org

 

 

Know your farmer know your food

It’s seems like we are hearing more and more about some type of recall on the food that we eat.  Multi-state outbreaks of food borne illnesses are on the rise.  The latest warning is to not eat romaine lettuce or anything, such as pre-packaged salad mixes, containing romaine lettuce.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), people have become sick with a strain of E. coli from eating romaine lettuce in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified an additional 18 people who have become sick with the same strain of E. coli in Ontario and Quebec.

On November 23rd, via Twitter, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, announced the most recent outbreak is likely California-based.

This year alone the CDC has investigated 21 multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks, more than any year in the past decade.  Foodborne illness hits one in six Americans every year, the CDC says, estimating that 48 million people get sick due to one or another of 31 pathogens. About 128,000 people end up in the hospital and 3,000 die annually.

Everyone expects for the food that they eat to be safe.  Dependence on the food producer and government rules, regulations, and inspections are relied upon to ensure that safety.  After all, it wouldn’t be for sale or served in a restaurant if it was bad, right?

Wrong!

It might have been true in the past however in this day and time and the look toward feeding the world, our food system can’t be relied upon to do the right thing and produce food to consumers expectations of safe food.

Mass production of food as quickly and cheaply as possible is what our mainstream food system is.  Most everything you by at the grocery store has been mass produced, further processed, or additive enriched.  Corporations have gotten into the game of self- proclaimed “farming to feed the world” because quite frankly, they know it’s the one thing that all of us need to survive.  The bottom line on the balance sheet is all that matters and if it happens to make people sick, oh well.  They are guaranteed to have sales for their product no matter how many times they mess up.

Economy of Scale is what economists identify our mainstream food production as being.  The non-politically correct version – mass production of food cheaply.  In other words, cutting corners to save money.  Most of us understand having to cut corners to save money in our everyday lives.  However, when the responsibility of suppling the masses with food that is supposed to be healthy, wholesome, and safe to eat, cutting corners is not an option.  This is where the equation of food production is wrong.

Attempts to change standards of food production is met with a brick wall.  The corporate giants have the money, power, and influence to control our government and bend legislators to their will.  I learned a long time ago that actual farmers, us little people, are not the client of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  This came from a former USDA attorney.  Research, development, education, marketing, and so on, every aspect of USDA is there for the big boys.  USDA has become another subsidy for corporate agriculture compliments of taxpayers.  Is it any wonder that the big boys who control our food system have become billionaires?  Let’s feed all of them a basket full of E.coli tainted romaine lettuce and see how they feel afterwards.  A fitting punishment for expecting others to eat it, I would say.

Just recently I read an article “Dirty Farm Water is Making Us Sick”.  It makes perfectly good sense to me that if one is using waste water from a mass animal production facility to irrigate crops there are going to be problems.  Waste water is exactly what it is, water with waste in it.  No matter if it’s waste water from a drainage ditch or a so called “lagoon” it derived from water that is a waste by-product from animals.  Waste means it can’t be used.  And believe me folks, don’t get all dreamy eyed over the word “lagoon” cause it sure aint The Blue Lagoon!

As mass food production increases so will the “oops, mess ups” in food safety increase.  Quick, fast, and in a hurry isn’t always the beast means of producing our food.

Knowing where your food comes from and how it was produced is the best defense.  Having to worry over everything that one puts in their mouth as to whether you will get sick or not from eating is not normal.  You should know the person or people who produce your food not the name of some corporation who massed produced in some place.

Locally supplied foods, farm direct, famers markets, and grocery stores that carry locally produced foods are your best bet.  If your regular shopping source doesn’t carry these products ask them to.

If you’re not sure ask the farmer producing the food if you can visit.  Check out how much or how many is being produced at one time.  If animals, look at their condition and behavior, how they are raised, and decide if the methods are acceptable to your expectations.

Look at the overall farming methods whether it be meat, produce, grains, nuts, etc.  Most of all, don’t except lame excuses as to why production standards don’t meet your expectations.  Most farmers that you visit will be more than happy to answer your questions, will appreciate your feedback, and want to satisfy your curiosity.  These farmers are the real deal and wouldn’t want to feed you something that they wouldn’t eat their selves.

When you know your farmer, you will know your food.

Nothing New For Chicken Processing Workers

Injuries, Illness, and Sometimes Death

I just finished reading an article from Delaware Online that a colleague shared.  The article was about a chicken plant worker that had been killed while changing a battery.  The worker, originally from Nicaragua, left behind 3 children, and has been identified as Rene Arauz from Bridgeville Delaware.

On October 5th Arauz was working to change a pallet jack battery at the Allen Harim chicken processing plant in Harbeson, Delaware.  According to reports, the replacement battery was secured in an electric hoist. While the battery was being lowered via the electric lever, the corner of the new battery was hung up on the corner of another battery that was sitting next to the jack.

The employee was leaning forward in attempt to manually guide the new battery to the jack away from the obstruction.

After the new battery cleared the obstruction it was lowered. However, the horizontal block portion part of the hoist struck Mr. Arauz.  He was transported to the hospital with serious head trauma where he later died.

When I finished reading the article, my blood boiled.  Another stupid senseless accident killing a processing plant worker.  I say another because injuries, accidents, and sometimes death among workers is nothing new for the chicken industry.

While executive director for the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance in the late nineties to mid-2000, we had numerous reports and complaints about the abuses and maiming of processing plant workers as well as reports of deaths.  Sadly, it appears that nothing has changed.  Why is that?  Where are those people who are supposed to be looking out for the workers and their safety?

If one takes the time to look they will find that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has citied this particular processing plant several times over the years.  Violations of worker safety and the health and welfare of workers is nothing new.  Just last year a worker lost a finger while working at this processing facility.

In relation to Mr. Arauz’ death, Allen Harim had previously been issued a Serious Citation and Notification of Penalty by OSHA on 6/15/2015.

  • employer failed to ensure periodic inspection certification of energy control procedures. The energy control book did not contain required documentation of inspection date, employees included and the person performing the inspection for the skinner machine and other equipment”.  A penalty of $5,000 was assigned.

An additional Citation cited Allen Harim for the “employer’s certification of:

  • employee training did not contain each employee’s name and date of training” with an assigned penalty of $5,000.

Among the Citations issued to Allen Harim by OSHA on 6/15/2015, six were listed as being “Serious” violations and three were listed as “Other Than Serious” a total in penalties of $38,000.

Other Than Serious Included Citations for:

  • A work-related injury or illness which met the criteria of restricted work or transfer to another job was not recorded in the OSHA 300 log: Penalty $1,000.
  • the employer failed to verify that the OSHA 300 log entries for the year 2014 were complete, accurate, and failed to correct any deficiencies identified. Penalty $3,000.
  • the employer failed to certify the annual summary of work-related injuries and illnesses, OSHA 300A Form or equivalent, recorded in the OSHA 300 logs for the year 2014:  Penalty $3,000.

By the looks of these 3 citations it appears that it is an “Other Than Serious” violation of law for not accurately reporting work related injuries and illnesses.

Injuries and illnesses are not accurately reported for a reason.  Defrauding the government about injuries and illnesses keeps the total number of incidents low.  By doing so, chicken companies rest on their laurels of a certain number of man hours without an injury or illness.  Furthermore, if you get caught, total penalties are only worth $7,000.

Other than the two Serious Violations I listed above in relation to Mr. Araus’ accident and death, 4 more are included.

Serious Citations issued:

  • employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause serious physical harm to employees, in that employees were required to perform manual tasks involving ergonomic risk factors including, but not limited to, excessive force and exertion, repetitive motions, and awkward postures resulting in ergonomic stressors that caused or are likely to cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including, but not limited, to tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger thumb, and shoulder pain:  Penalty $7,000.

Processing workers are viewed as being disposable by poultry companies.  In my experience processing workers who have been injured on the job are basically thrown away.  If you can’t do your job then you don’t have a job.  Never mind that we (poultry companies) are the root cause of your injury through our lackadaisical care of workers.  Just get the job done!

  • the employer did not post signs indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge where exit routes were not apparent and exit signs were not visible. Penalty none.
  • employer failed to ensure the exit sign was illuminated by a reliable light source.  Penalty $5,000

All I can say about these violations is that Allen Harim should thank their lucky stars that there wasn’t a fire in the processing plant otherwise we might have been hearing about workers being trapped or lost inside because there were no clear indications to the nearest exit.  Several areas of the plant weren’t clearly marked.

  • employer failed to make lavatories available as employees were not granted permission to use them and/or were not replaced at their lines, waiting up to 40 minutes to use lavatories.  Penalty $4,000.

This is a time old tradition in the chicken industry.  Stories of workers urinating on themselves or wearing diapers in order to relieve their selves while working is not uncommon.  The view of chicken companies is that the processing line must keep moving and the chickens must keep whizzing by.  No, you can’t use the bathroom. The use of a bathroom when in need is a basic human right.  Every Citation issued in just this one OSHA inspection is really bad however to demean a human being to the point of urinating on one’s self is the lowest of the low.

The outcome of these citations is that the company denied and challenged them.  No surprise there, denial is their middle name.

Out of the total fines of $38,000, Allen Harim only paid $13,000 in the end.  A deal was made with OSHA and the United Food and Commercial Union (UFCW) who represents the workers, to reduce the penalties and a no admission of guilt, on behalf of the company, for the charges in the citations issued by OSHA.

And therein lies the problem folks.  The chicken companies will continue down their current path as long as deals can be made and penalties can be reduced.  Until consequences are faced and pocketbooks are picked nothing will change.

What amount in penalties is a worker’s life worth?  Will the parties involved haggle over the amount and reach a deal?

Within the Realm of Possibilities for the Chicken Industry

Is it a farfetched conspiracy theory, truth, or somewhere in between?  To assert that chicken companies conspired to illegally manipulate chicken supplies to boost prices since 2008, is just what Maplevale Farms alleged in a lawsuit filed in 2016 against 14 chicken processors, including some of the biggies such as Tyson, Koch, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms, Mountaire among others.  Since then many others have made the same allegations and filed lawsuits such as food distributers US Foods and Sysco, and retailers Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie.

When I first heard about the lawsuits I thought, “what’s the big deal, the chicken companies have been controlling the market forever”.  If one were to go back in history they would find that chicken is not part of the Futures Market because the industry can control the future.  If one were to invest in Futures they would be at the mercy of the chicken industry and what it decided the future will be not decided by consumer demand.  We also need to remember that we are talking about some of the grain dealers of the world.  That’s no big secret.

When the market price is low the companies reduce production by not placing baby chickens on contract farms as quickly as they would if the market price is high.  It’s more economical to destroy eggs intended for hatching than to invest in the cost of bringing the hatchlings to full market weight, processing, and distribution.  Of course, destroying eggs is not really a loss as they can always be mixed into feed.   It always tickles me when I hear industry comments such as “the farmer takes no market risk the companies bear it”.  Bologna!

What they don’t say is that if the market price is low, industry production slows down, meaning the farmer doesn’t raise as many chickens per year as they would in a high price market.  If that’s not absolute control over how much a farm produces, I don’t know what is.  Complaints made by farmers about this economic control have historically fallen on the deaf ears of our U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Justice.  Frustratingly so, I might add.

Secondly, contract farmers have somewhere in their payment formula a base market price figured in.  How many farmers have been ripped off during this 8-year spree of price fixing that’s being alleged?  How many costumers have been ripped off by paying false higher chicken prices?  And so on, I think you get my drift.

Words such as anti-trust and monopoly come to mind, but hush, we aren’t supposed to say that!

Never mind the Federal and State laws in place to firstly prevent formation of cartels and collusion.  A cartel is a group of apparently independent producers whose goal is to increase their collective profits by means of price fixing, limiting supply, or other restrictive practices.  The Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 are the major laws that cover such actions.

Everything is not as clear as what it might appear.  Depending on who or where a judge ruling on such a case will fall depends on how that judge or judges want to rule.  Some call it “rule of reason” whereby a practice might restrict trade in a way that is seen as positive or beneficial for consumers or society.

There are many other “outs” that can be used by the chicken industry to bypass law such as a few rulings made in cases that have fallen on the plaintiff, farmers in this situation, must prove overall harm to the industry not individual harm.  In other words, if everyone is not being harmed by actions then no one is being harmed.  It’s confusing as to this type of reasoning when a contract farmer is an independent contractor not an employee, or so we are told.  Operating as an individual business why should harm to other individual businesses have to be shown?  Or better still why should harm to consumers or society have any place when deciding such cases.  It begs to ask if economic harm to an independent business occurs are consumers or society going to help with the loss of income to the business?  Obviously, the answer is no.

There is no “competition” in the contract poultry industry.  The sense of a highly competitive chicken industry, is false.  There might be subtle difference between company operations however, if one were to take the time to really look at it they would find that the absolute control from embryo to your dinner table remains in the hands of the companies.  And yes, they do get together at times to talk about business as usual.

Take for example, the National Chicken Council (NCC), based in Washington DC.  According to their website, NCC “is the trade association, based in Washington, DC, for the companies that raise broiler chickens and make and market chicken products. Member companies of NCC provide about 95 percent of the chicken products on America’s table.”  For as long as I can remember it’s been seriously suggested by many that this is where the “cartel” sits.

Some argue that the chicken companies are so large and wealthy that they don’t need to collude or participate in price fixing.  While that might be true in a singular kind of way, it also needs to be understood that it’s never enough with these companies.  I’ve often joked about how much is enough and how much can you take with you when talking about the unbelievable greed associated with the chicken industry.  Will it ever be enough? The lawsuits are within the realm of possibilities of industry behavior.

There are too many labels which could be applied to the allegations set forth as evidenced by the many lawsuits hanging over the chicken companies.  It’s highly unlikely that the chickens will come home to roost, so to speak, by any unfavorable rulings against the industry. Just recently, an Illinois judge denied plaintiffs request for 50,000 company emails in the discovery process.  They (meaning the companies and the courts) have been doing it for decades and will continue to do so.

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

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.

Advocate or Activist, what’s the difference?

In a recent community meeting, I was asked if I’m an activist or an advocate.  My immediate answer was that I’m an advocate.  Afterwards I pondered my answer because the word activist has always been less than desirable to me.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve often been called an activist and it was a description used to dismiss my work as being “radical”.  I believe the word was used in the context as being an insult and it invoked a picture of being a radical or militant person.

I think that most of us can agree that radical or militant behavior is less than desirable and is dismissed by many, putting the actions down to someone who is fanatical.  Radical or militant is often associated with violence an extreme and undesirable direction to follow.  I certainly don’t condone it and I believe that violence begets violence.

Over the past couple of years, a huge building binge of chicken warehouses by the poultry industry on the Delmarva Peninsula has invoked division within our communities.  This is what my conversation was about when it came down to the question of advocate or activist.  My involvement in the issues, is supporting what the community interest are and their interest was decided by those affected.  This is what defines advocacy or activism.

On the other hand, there are a few activists involved in the issues.  I say activists because involvement came from an already decided campaign coming from somewhere other than the community and represented concerns other than decisions made within the community.  Forcing the will of others than those affected, never works, and is doomed from the beginning.

Representing non-profit organizations, activist have a defined campaign in mind long before they disperse into communities.  I say this because most often funding for campaigns come from private foundations or individuals.  Most of us within the non-profit world who have ever applied for funding know that goals are decided for a specified amount of time and are for specific objectives.  The funds applied for are granted before the issues are defined by communities.

Any who’ve worked on any of the issues surrounding the poultry industry know that there are several factions within the community and most often those different factions don’t agree because they have differing concerns.  Finding the common thread within the community and moving forward with agreed upon concerns are the goals of an advocate and it goes a long way toward developing common allies within the community.  An alliance, if you will!

Attempts to bring together differing factions are sorely hampered by activists because they bring a previously decided campaign to the table which is often different than anything within the individual communities.  This becomes a weapon for industry to use and its representatives can often be heard saying that these activists have a hidden agenda which brings about doubt and further divides communities.

According to the dictionary the following applies –

  • Advocate – one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group
  • Advocacy – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal
  • Activist – one who campaigns to bring about political or social change
  • Activism – the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change

It’s a fine line between the two words, definition wise.  However, understanding the difference between supporting or promoting (advocate) and a decided campaign (activist) easily defines the difference between the two.  One could say that actions speak louder than words!

Providing assistance to communities in efforts to address its issues within is essential to success.  Telling communities what it’s issues are and how it will address those issues won’t result in positive outcomes.

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