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

Posts tagged ‘Chesapeake Bay’

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.

I’ve Been Chastised!  Critics Want Answers

My post from yesterday  Jihadists, Beheadings? In Maryland?  alluded to the tightly woven web within the State of Maryland and the chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula.  I’m not just picking on Maryland.  The Peninsula or the Eastern Shore, as it’s often called, also encompasses parts of Delaware and Virginia.

I’ve been chastised and reminded that it’s not just Maryland.  For that matter I could go further and say that, in my humble experiences, I’ve seen the very same things across the country in any place the poultry industry sets up shop.

For all of you unidentified and not so friendly people out there that I’ve heard from —

Yes, I admit, I do, enthusiastically, support the Poultry Litter Management Act (PLM) introduced in Maryland’s House and Senate (SB 496) (HB 599).  I also encourage everyone to read the PLM Fact Sheet to clear up all of the misconceptions and downright untruths floating around.  Being informed and making up your own mind is the best gift you could give yourself, and it’s free.

There are several reasons why I’m in favor of the PLM.

Firstly and most importantly, the Chesapeake Bay belongs to all of us. It’s a National Treasure.  There isn’t any single one of us who has the right to continue to destroy it and, yes, this is a pet peeve of mine.  All of the efforts to clean up the Bay are not working as every year we see more or expanding “dead zones” appear.  Major culprits who are degrading the Bay have not owned up and said “I’m going to accept my responsibility, because I care”.

The chicken companies who operate on the Delmarva Peninsula have been in denial since the very first day that disastrous consequences struck.  I can go all the way back to the mid 1990’s when the Eastern Shore had a horrific outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida.  Massive fish kills and human illnesses abounded.  Nutrient overload mixed with the right weather conditions was identified.  Upon further investigation runoff from chicken manure became part of the mix. The poultry industry immediately started pointing fingers, mostly at farmers.  I might add that this was my environmental awakening as a contract farmer, and realizing that we had serious problems, in in more ways than one.

Coupled with blaming farmers, local watermen who make their living from the bounty of the Bay were the ones being most affected.  Denial of responsibility by chicken companies pointing the finger at farmers and watermen affected, who by the way are neighbors to the farmers, set the stage for a wedge being driven into the community.  Sides were drawn up.  Does that sound familiar, folks?

Since then, millions upon millions, if not billions, of tax dollars have been thrown at the attempt to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and take care of chicken manure.  Oodles of programs have been created to assist farmers with taking care of the manure simply because the chicken industry repeatedly says that the farmers can’t afford it.  Overabundance of chicken manure is transported out of the area. Meanwhile, billion dollar chicken companies have sat back and taken a free ride, courtesy of taxpayers.

In come the threats and intimidation.  Chicken companies threaten to simply walk away.  We will move out of the State and go somewhere we can get away with polluting.  Thousands of jobs will be lost.  It’s the same old story of being held hostage by an industry that doesn’t believe in being a good corporate citizen and taking care of its industrial waste as any other industry has the responsibility of doing.

I see it as not being respectful and mindful of the communities and state the industry operates in.  They see it as more money in their pockets, a way of doing business.  We have been made to feel beholden to an industry that doesn’t give a hoot about anything other than dollars and cents.

In the volatile debate over the PLM Act in Maryland sides have been drawn up.  Departments within the State appear to be hostages to the chicken industry, once again, citing “the Eastern Shore’s chicken industry regarded as one of the most import aspects of the Shore’s economy”, according to The Star Democrat.

So okay, I’ll bite!  I’ll pretend that I believe that.  What I don’t understand is that millions of tax payer dollars are supporting programs to clean up chicken companies’ industrial waste.  Why are taxpayers footing the bill?

I’m a common sense kind of person however I just don’t get it.  Maybe someone can help me out!  On the one hand you have industry saying that farmers can’t afford to pay for disposing of chicken manure so we need to set up taxpaying programs.

On the other hand DPI, the chicken companies trade union, trots out farmers who say they and their workers are making a good living from the chickens they raise under contract with the companies.

Add the fact of State governmental agencies and a handful of lawmakers saying how important the industry is to the Eastern Shore economy, like the economy would collapse without the industry.  If there is all of this money floating around with contract farmers and within the industry, again, I ask, why are taxpayers footing the bill?

The surge of 200 new chicken houses planned for the Eastern Shore exacerbates the manure problem.  The new houses are much larger than what has been customary and can house up to 60,000 chickens apiece.  Warehouse sized buildings, to be exact.  Mostly, we’re not talking about the local farmer adding chicken houses to the farm we’re talking about investors with no ties to the community building chicken warehouse developments. (There are reasons but that’s a story for another day)

The industry has convinced government officials that “this doesn’t necessarily mean the industry is growing”, says Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary, Joe Barten-Felder.  I underline the word necessarily because, here it comes again folks – it’s all in the words!  It doesn’t necessarily mean that the industry is NOT growing, either!

Maintenance is also cited by government officials.  Simply put, more than anything it’s replacing old buildings or old facilities with new facilities. The chicken industry wants new, bigger, with all the bells and whistles chicken houses.  I wonder which one of you older existing contract farms will be the ones terminated to accommodate the NOT growing chicken industry?  Sounds to me like something has to go to make room for the new!

We currently have to transport manure out of the area because of the excess.  Does anyone think that 200 bigger houses equals more chickens equals more manure?  These chicken warehouse developments have no land to apply manure or produce any crops to take up the nutrients.  Like too much icing on a cake, the Eastern Shore can’t handle any more manure.

Quite frankly, I find it insulting that the chicken industry throws out vague statements and expects that we all buy it.

Everyone else in the State has to pay their way in the effort to clean up the Bay for through sewer taxes, the flush tax for septic systems, fees for the septic hauler who pumps and dumps human waste, environmental taxes, and on, and on, and on.  Adding insult to injury, we have tax dollars piled on to take care of chicken manure.

I see this whole scenario as communities being ripped apart over chicken manure and companies who want others to pay for cleaning it up.  If I haven’t given enough reason to support the Poultry Litter Management Act, I can give you more!

Poultry Litter Management Act Fact Sheet

Jihadists, Beheadings? In Maryland?

The “Top Story” for February 16th in the Delmarva Farmer, a publication of American Farm Publications caught my eye.  In bold print the title read “”Environmental jihadists” blamed for environmental bill”. 

Seeing the word “jihadists” in the title lead me to believe that this was some very serious and scary stuff.  After all, the Delmarva Farmer is widely known and read within the farming community and most often that same community takes the word of the publication as the gospel truth.

I went on to read the story and I did indeed become very concerned and disturbed.  The issue relating to the title in the story is about the proposed Poultry Litter Management Act which has been introduced in Maryland’s House and Senate.

The legislation was being protested at the Maryland Agricultural Commission’s monthly meeting.  The commission, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) website —  “The Maryland Agriculture Commission is appointed by the Governor of Maryland and serves as an advisory body to the secretary and deputy secretary of agriculture. The commission consists of 30 members representing various commodities across Maryland, and includes both a consumer and a University of Maryland (ex officio) representative.”

One of the poultry industry representatives on the commission, Andrew McClean, said “I liken this [the legislation] to environmental jihadists, they’re trying to economically behead us”.  Whoa!  That is some very serious talk.  There is nothing humorous in McLean’s statement and it’s a highly inflammatory likening.

This came from a person representing the poultry industry that has been appointed by the Governor of Maryland and is an advisor to both the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture?  Having the ear of our highest office in the State and the highest offices in MDA?  Just what kind of rhetoric is the State of Maryland allowing to whip up the public?   This is awfully scary stuff!

To further the State’s agenda, a list of legislation that MDA is watching was given to committee members saying that the Poultry Litter Management Act would bring about co-permitting that would require that chicken companies verify that the farms they contract will follow state mandated regulations before chickens could be placed on farms.

That in itself is BUNK!  Company contracts already have a provision that the farmer will adhere to all state, county, and local laws.  This gives the contracting chicken company the “out” from legal implications should the farmer not be following the laws.

When the Poultry Litter Management Act becomes law, it will be for the chicken companies, who by the way own the chickens, to become responsible for the manure that their chickens create.  Any industry is responsible for the waste it creates.  Any good corporate citizen does this it’s a cost of doing business and a part of free enterprise.

However, in the State of Maryland the industry has had lawmaker’s ears and many programs were initiated to clean up the overabundance of chicken manure belonging to the chicken companies.  In other words the good citizens of Maryland have been giving the billion dollar chicken industry a free ride when it comes to industrial waste responsibility.  All of the government programs created are at the courtesy of taxpayers.  The one’s specifically for shouldering the responsibility of chicken industrial waste amounts to nothing more than corporate welfare.  Why does a billion dollar industry need precious tax dollars that could better serve much more important needs within the state?

We are at a time in our country’s history when the words “jihad, jihadist, terror, terrorist” are associated with radicalized Islam and ultimately ISIS.  Beheadings by these groups are not uncommon and we are seeing in our own country “lone wolf’s/ jihadist”, if you will, committing uncivilized and barbaric acts in a civilized nation.  There are disturbed people out there that one doesn’t know what they are capable of.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard threatening type statements about beheadings coming from those who are supposed to be “leaders” in the farming community.  Is this what the farming community wants to be portrayed as?

It’s beyond my comprehension why a publication such as the Delmarva Farmer would even print such inflammatory stories using bold headlines.  Is it for the purpose of inciting disturbed people to commit horrendous acts?  I’ll bet a milkshake that the editors didn’t think of that view.

I’ve previously stated that the chicken industry tears apart the moral fabric of our communities.  I need to amend that statement to include questions about the morality of publications as well as State leaders allowing highly inflammatory and inciting statements into advisement of any government business.

Fair Farms Maryland Launches

A network of nonprofit organizations, farmers, consumers and businesses launched a campaign earlier this month aiming to reform Maryland’s food system that lacks adequate fairness, transparency, and accountability. I’m happy to say that I participate on the group’s farmer advisory council.

Fair Farms Maryland, convened by Waterkeepers Chesapeake and supported by more than 40 endorsing partners, is working to create awareness about the relationship between our food systems, the environment and public health.

A sub title on the group’s press release says “Fair Farms campaign showcases sustainable farmers who “”farm against the grain””.  I guess it could be said that I’m one of those farmers.  Sending my brain into overdrive is the “farming against the grain” part.

For example, Nick Baily of Grand View Farm in Forest Hill, MD says “we set out to prove that wholesome food can be produced in a way that regenerates the land, respects nature and the needs of the animals and reestablishes a lost visceral connection between consumers and their food”.

I started thinking that the goals of Nick’s farm shouldn’t be considered farming against the grain it should be the norm in farming.  I mean really, shouldn’t we all want to produce wholesome food, regenerate the land that gives to us, respect nature and the needs of our farm animals and have a connection with those who consume our food?

Another example, “Taxpayers heavily subsidize the intensive farming norm, while also paying higher bills for related health care costs and to restore the damage done to our environment” says Bob Gallagher, in Annapolis, MD, a board member of Waterkeepers Chesapeake and co-chairman of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition.  Bob wrote a guest column “Let’s insist on sustainable food system”, in the Capital Gazette about the Fair Farms campaign.

Bob refers to intensive farming as the norm for food production. Without going into a lengthy explanation suffice it to say that I’m talking about industrialized food production utilizing methods without regard to public and environmental health, lack of respect for the land and animals that sustain us, and where the almighty dollar outweighs the inclination to produce food that sustains farms and communities.

Comparing the two farming methods, which are on opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s hard to reconcile how food production became so jumbled.  It befuddles me when thinking about the notion that food can be, and is, produced with total disregard or care of what is good for people, animals, and the environment.  It also boggles the mind to think that the goals of Grand View Farm aren’t considered as normal!

Taking it one step farther – what about just doing the right thing?  Seriously folks, I’ve seen so much denial, blame shifting, meetings behind closed doors, ambiguity, fear mongering, strong arming, influence peddling, deal making and breaking, and sometimes outright untruths from big ag proponents that nothing surprises me anymore.

I’m sure the first serve from detractors in the volley will be that the Fair Farms campaign is against farmers.  “This campaign is not about environmentalists versus farmers,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Fair Farms is about working together to reform a food system that is out of balance. We shouldn’t be rewarding farm operations that produce cheap food with steep hidden costs to the environment and public health. Instead, we need to find new opportunities to support those agricultural practices that will grow food in healthy ways for generations to come.”

Working together to reform a food system that is out of balance and growing food in healthy ways – sounds like good ideas to me!

If you would like to know more about Fair Farms Maryland   take a peek.  While you are there take the pledge to be a Fair Farms Consumer.  It’s free!

Residents Are Fed Up With CAFO Developments

On the Delmarva Peninsula the chicken industry has a presence that can be seen from major routes that visitor’s travel to visit our beaches. If one were to take a detour down any side road that presence would be highly notable. We are no longer talking about the occasional farm with a few chicken houses we are talking about huge developments of chicken houses. Thusly, what used to be farms are now classified as CAFO’s – concentrated animal feeding operations and called CAFO developments.

In today’s terms, the chicken houses are huge long buildings, 67 feet by 650 feet. That’s 43550 square feet of living space for chickens to be crammed into for six to seven weeks, 5 times per year. At best, the chickens are given three-quarters of a square foot to live on until they are sent to the processing plant. Using the figures above and giving the benefit of the doubt on exact living space per chicken, each building would house 58,000 chickens. Exact figures are hard to pin down. I’ve been told 3 different numbers the highest being 60,000 chickens.

Needless to say, there are a lot of chickens in one building, too many chickens that produce, roughly, 180,000 pounds of manure during the course of one 6-7 week period per house. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that cramming animals into a building with less than a square foot per animal and living on their own excrement for 6-7 weeks is going to brew undesirable and dangerous consequences.

The consequences are many. A constant diet of antibiotics/antimicrobials to counter diseases created by the model of cramming as many chickens into a given area comes to mind. So does ammonia emissions from the huge fans that exhaust bad air out of the buildings. Communication of disease to humans, such as avian influenza, is a scary one. Some have charged animal cruelty, environmental degradation, a huge contributor to the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay, loss of enjoyment of property and worthless property values. The list goes on……

A good example of CAFO development can be seen in Somerset County, MD where 6 residences sit right smack in the middle of 28 chicken houses. The CAFO development came long after the homes however the county never took into consideration the residents who would suffer the consequences. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is located 2 miles from the same CAFO development.

We’ve heard all of the excuses from the county and the state permitting this type of development. These excuses are the same that industry has hidden behind for years. Land zoned agriculture, Right to Farm, and county regulations for setbacks from roads and property lines. Who made up the planning, zoning, and regulations? The county and state with input from industry! Other input, if it was oppositional, went into the wastebasket!

With a burst of chicken house development suddenly occurring in the lower counties on the Delmarva Peninsula and some chicken companies offering incentives to build CAFO’s, residents are raising objections and well they should. What was once acceptable and allowed to run feral is now being resisted by local communities. In both Somerset and Worcester Counties in Maryland, residents affected from CAFO developments have raised objections and concerns to county officials. Well organized with legitimate and sound scientific concerns presented to the Somerset County, MD Planning Commission, residents have asked the county to revise CAFO regulations. Public Health concerns are at the top of the list of reasons for taking a look at permitted CAFO developments.

I’ve sat through some of these meetings and honestly have to say that it was akin to a dog and pony show on the part of the county. Other than a court room, I’ve never heard of a public meeting where the public wasn’t allowed to speak or ask questions. Furthermore, it is inherent that those making the decisions excuse their self from the process when a personal interest or conflict of interest would cloud their decision. Public servants have a duty to put personal gain and beliefs aside.

A moratorium on further building until regulations, considerations, and sound science can be looked at has been asked for and rejected. As the powers that be slowly draw out the process CAFO developments are advancing at a fast and furious pace.

From a moral standpoint and doing the right thing, industry should take into consideration those who are affected by its practices and not pay out cash to CAFO Developers that want to plow over anything and everything that is in their way!

What Came First – The Chicken or The Egg?

Here on the farm, we are making preparations to expand. Yes, I said EXPAND! The great egg adventure has blossomed into something viable. Imagine that folks – viability on the farm. More Girls for Bird’s Eye View Farm and of course more eggs. Our current supply can’t meet the demand for product.

Back in January, I participated on a farmer panel at the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FH CASA) conference and our great egg adventure was used as one of several “case studies”.

Becoming a case study is something that I never considered when we first began. All joking aside, I had my doubts. Jumping into it was a leap of faith. As I told conference attendees we were flying by the seat of our pants in the beginning and in opposition to my colleagues successful case studies presented, I bluntly told folks – “do not follow my model”! Being a Guiana pig means making all of the mistakes and figuring out solutions.

If I had to do it over again I would have…… how many times do we say that in a life time? Exploring marketing and distribution would have been first before putting the Girls on the farm. I would want to know that I had outlets for product and have it figured out how I was going to get product to market – Note to self: Marketing and distribution, figure it out first.

Thinking back, I recall being told several times, don’t worry, the product will sell. That put me in a comfort zone and allowed me to relax and enjoy raising the Girls for 22 weeks. And then the eggs came! Getting the first eggs was a thrill and heartwarming because our grandson and my husband found the first ones. But then, more eggs came, lots of eggs!

Of course there are steps in between collecting eggs and selling eggs to consider such as washing, packaging, and cold storage. Washing and packing is done by hand (machinery is expensive) and a spare refrigerator works if you don’t have too many eggs. As the Girls increased egg laying the necessity for much larger cold storage space was presented. As any farmer knows, utilizing and modifying what you have is imperative for economic reasons – waste not, want not. There are not many of us who can go out and purchase a walk in cooler at the blink of an eye. Lucky for us, my husband ingeniously converted a pump room into a walk in cooler at a relatively low cost.

As the eggs started piling up the task of marketing became necessity! Marketing is a humbling experience for one who has never done it before. Thankfully, being an Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) Certified farm also meant that AWA lent a hand in marketing, free of charge. Who can afford to go out and hire a marketing firm to sell product? Sales began slowly and I had many sleepless nights wracking my brain thinking about markets. There are several ways to sell product. There is a lot of trial and error. Finding the way which best suits the individual takes time, patience, and persistence – lots of it.

Once the market was found, meeting the requirements of a buyer is something that never entered my mind until it was put before me. Researching Federal, State, and Local laws for production, processing, packaging, distribution, and selling is enough to make one’s head spin. Understanding and compliance is not the end of it. Each market or buyer has individual requirements and is something one should be well aware of before entering the market. Insurances, licensing, and permits for individual localities are a must.

Different types of packaging are something to consider such as chef’s preferring bulk (egg flats) in 30 dozen cases or consumer’s preferring half dozen or full dozen cartons packed in 15 dozen cases to suit the buyer and what sells best in the market place.

What size eggs do your customers want? Regardless of what some would have us believe, hens don’t lay uniformly sized or shaped eggs. Depending on the egg laying cycle of the hens decides what you get and how many. What do you do with eggs that don’t meet your customer’s preference?

Distribution – getting the product from farm to market can be a nightmare. Spending a good twelve hour day making deliveries each week was exhausting. Ensuring that product is kept sufficiently cool and as required by law is a must. Taking cost into consideration the question arises, will distribution cost outweigh profit margin expected after production and processing cost?

In my case, the chicken came before the egg! Was it a wise move? Probably not! However, I don’t have regrets over the roller coaster ride it presented! Settling on a market and developing a partnership with our buyer has been a relief to all of the unknowns mentioned above. I feel as if the farm has reached a point of serenity and life has leveled out over the past year. While not becoming complacent with where we are I’m a happy camper! Although eager to move forward I also realize that adding more hens presents new challenges. A new chapter in the great egg adventure!

Independent Contractor – to be or not to be?

My last post about Waterkeeper Alliance vs. Perdue and Allen and Kristin Hudson brought out many issues associated with the case. The saga continues………..

The lawsuit is about pollutants finding their way to drainage ditches surrounding a chicken CAFO owned by the Hudson’s into a tributary of the Pocomoke River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. It also questions ownership and responsibility of the waste discharged from the farm naming Perdue as the legal owner of the chickens that produce the waste.

On November 17, 2011 both sides in the case filed a motion for summary judgment and in doing so many legal documents in the case were made available to the public. Public perusal of these court records brings to light many other issues.

It’s hard for me to decide which of the other issues to start with.

Independent contractor status is a good place to begin. Contract poultry growers (chicken farmers) are classified as independent contractors by the companies they contract with to raise company owned chickens. The job of the farmer is to receive company chickens and raise them to a marketable age – PERIOD.

Not to put the chicken before the egg we have to look at where these contract chickens originate. It’s a complex web to untangle and there are many company steps involved before ever getting to the chicks placed on farms and grown. What is known is that the company designs, through genetic selection and engineering, what the final chicken will be. When placed on contract farms, the farmer has no choice or idea about the genetics, performance in growing of the chicken, or how much manure that chicken will produce.

Prior to chicks being placed on contract farms feed is delivered to the farm. This feed is formulated, mixed and delivered by the company. Feed ingredients are unknown to the famer and are a closely guarded secret claimed by companies to be a “trade secret”. The amount of feed delivered to the farm is unverifiable by the farmer and (s)he has to accept on “good faith” that the feed is what the company says it is. There are no options for contract farmers to acquire feed from another source because the contracts stipulate that feed comes from the company. This feed delivery process continues throughout the entire life cycle of the flock.

I have to insert here a few facts about the feed. Most people don’t understand that feed ingredient’s such as antibiotics/antimicrobials and arsenic isn’t the farmer’s choice to use or not use. This pertains to animal by-products in feed as well. Everything that goes into feed is decided by the chicken company and must be accepted and used by the farmer. Should a farmer decide to acquire feed from another source the farmer’s contract will be terminated.

The chicks delivered to contract farms derive from company owned hatcheries where the eggs are hatched into chicks. During the process at the company hatchery certain procedures could be performed such as in ovo injections of vaccines and antibiotics. In ovo is a process of injecting eggs before hatching and it’s anyone’s guess as to what is injected. Another company secret of which the farmer has no control over!

It could be assumed that the independent contractor, the farmer, comes into play once the chicks are on the farm for growing. That theory might hold water if the company only delivered the chicks and disappeared out of the raising process and returned to pick up the grown chickens for processing.

Throughout the flock company employees routinely come to the farm and manage the methods in which the farmer is raising the chickens. Court documents in the lawsuit revealed a company employee went so far as to leaving written instructions saying “need to work on these things ASAP’ and then listing things to be done. Some “notes” left by Perdue gave deadlines on work to be done and many notes referred to telling the farmer to do “heavy culling” (kill many chickens). If that is not telling the farmer what work to do, I’m at a loss to say what it is!

Other notes revealed that a Perdue employee set or adjusted equipment within the chicken house, moved fans around, culled chickens, and preformed many other tasks required in raising the chickens to a marketable age. These things are the job of the independent contractor not a company employee.

Again, I have to stop here and raise a question. Suppose some disaster should occur inside the chicken house because of the Perdue employee making a mistake in equipment adjustments such as ventilation and all of the chickens die (smother) – who would be responsible for the disaster? It’s my guess the blame would be laid at the farmer’s feet and income loss would be the farmer’s bitter pill to swallow. Having been a contract farmer I say this with ease because everything is always the farmers fault according to the company and there is no recourse for the farmer.

Reading court documents revealed that Perdue routinely performed farm operations inside of the chicken houses. It’s argued that the Perdue employee and Mr. Hudson had an understanding about this. The only time that I’m aware of the company coming on the farm, performing the daily tasks of the farmer, and caring for the flock would be if the company declared that the farmer was not doing his job and that the company was taking over. There is a clause in the contract that says that the company has the right to do that. However there are no supporting documents that say that Perdue made any such declaration or decision to take over the raising of the chickens on the Hudson farm.

Farmers have argued for a very long time that they aren’t independent contractors in their relationship with chicken companies. Independentsomebody or something that is free from control, dependence, or interference. Looking over court documents it’s clear that Perdue has some other definition of “independent”.

I remember a time in the early 1990’s Perdue declared all of its chicken catchers to be independent contractors. In the late 1990’s a lawsuit was filed against the company claiming that the chicken catchers were employees of the company not independent contractors. The lawsuit prevailed and a Federal Court found in favor of the chicken catcher’s. If memory serves me correctly, the court found Perdue willful in dealings with the chicken catchers.

Might Perdue also be willful in dealings with contract farmers?

Relevant legal documents and court pleadings