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

Posts tagged ‘Perdue’

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.

Doing the Unthinkable

Craig Watts did the unthinkable in the world of a contract chicken farmer and industrialized chicken production. He allowed cameras inside of his chicken houses and showed the world the deplorable conditions which contract growers are mandated to raise chickens under.

Some will say that Craig is brave, others might say he’s crazy, and surely most contract chicken farmers will say that he should have known it would cause trouble for his self. Having walked in the shoes that Craig is now walking in I would say it’s a little bit of all of the above and more!

With the release of the shocking video, taken by Compassion in World Farming, reaction was swift. For those wanting to do something to stop the methods used in raising our nations chicken they had the option to send a letter to supermarket CEO’s asking them to replace the source of their supermarket brand, in Craig’s case Perdue.

All supermarket brands come from a source. All chicken companies supply one supermarket brand or another. Inside of chicken company processing plants packing under many different labels is all in a day’s work. Do you know who supplies your favorite supermarket brand?

Back to Craig Watts…. Having known Craig for quite some time I’m not at all surprised at what he has done. He has been simmering like a pot of water on a stove for a long time. He’s tried talking to Perdue representatives, he’s shocked them with video before Compassion in World Farming came along, and most often was given a message in some shape or form of keep your mouth shut. It’s nothing new and every contract chicken farmer knows it. In this case the swift reaction for Craig was for Perdue to inform him that he is the subject of an “internal animal welfare” investigation.

Secretly and behind closed doors, fellow farmers will pat Craig on the back. He will be the topic of conversations in the farmer community for a long time. Those in the outside world will use the video and the compatible New York Times Op Ed article by Nicholas Kristof for different purposes. When all of the sensationalism dies down, Craig Watts is still on his farm in North Carolina battling Perdue and hanging on to his farm by a thread.

I’m not saying that the world shouldn’t have been given a view into our food production system. We as individuals need to see where our food comes from and make informed choices. What I am saying is that now that Craig has provided that view, who will be standing with him in his battle?

I’ll have much more to say on this subject in the days and weeks ahead.

It Never Ceases to Amaze Me!

Although my next post was to be a continuation of the Land of Confusion this week has been one of those weeks! Un-freaking-believable is a more apt description! Of course I’ve been completely sidetracked from talking about genetics in farming.

One of my repetitive sayings is “it never ceases to amaze me”. This usually accompanies me closing my eyes and shaking my head as if trying to clear it in order to take in the latest assault to my brain. I’ve done this a lot this week. More often than not, it takes me a couple of days to absorb “the latest” and to wrap my mind around it.

I should be of a very jaded mindset in regards to the meat and poultry industries and their relationships with government/politicians in power. I don’t discriminate when it comes to political parties – I call it as I see it.

One of the latest revelations to my brain was the release of emails between Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, and Perdue, mostly through the company’s attorney. Cozy, is a polite description. This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise because in the recesses of my mind, it was something that I already thought and something that many had speculated about.

Through a Freedom of Information request, Food and Water Watch, a Washington, DC based nonprofit organization, emails between O’Malley and a Perdue representative were obtained and released to the public. It’s interesting, informative reading and certainly lends credibility to theories as to why taxpayers in Maryland are picking up the tab for industry and its share of pollution caused by company owned chicken poop! This is one of those “indirect” subsidies that continue to prop up cheap chicken.

On another subject, and leading back to the saga of The Land of Confusion, I’ve had several conversations this week about objections to farmers using the term “pasture raised”. I discussed this in my last post, The Land of Confusion Part II and from what I gather it has ruffled feathers of some who have adulterated the term “free range”.

In my mind and in the minds of many other farmers who are practicing the method of “pasture raised” it’s a term used to inform consumers that animals are REALLY outside on pasture. The animals REALLY do eat grasses, bugs, and worms and are able to forage.

The term “pasture raised” most definitely goes above the term “free range” because some have coined the term “free range” to conjure up a picture in consumer’s mind of animals being out on lush green forage. In reality, those who’ve bastardized free range through the definition of animals only needing to have “access” to the outside created the need for farmers who actually let their animals outside and provide actual pasture, to clearly define their farming methods.

It appears to me that coining of phrases can only be used if it suits the purpose of a select few. Like it or not, this argument is something that USDA is going to have to address. The high jacking of labels for the sheer purpose of greed has been going on in the farming community for quite some time. Closing loopholes through clear definitions of what actually happens on the farm needs to happen in order for farmers who REALLY do what they say they do can be the only ones to claim the phrase or term and consumers can be assured. To further add credence to the need for this to happen can be found from several sources who’ve felt the need to search out and write about this issue. The latest comes from Rodale

It’s perfectly clear where I stand on this issue and I’m sure that we can look forward to a huge and long battle! Of course we will see a lot of wheeling and dealing during this process and the flexing of money, power, and influence.

While there were other assaults to my brain throughout the week I haven’t quite decided what to make of them so discussion will have to wait for other posts. Hopefully, the next post will get back to the subject of genetics and the effects created by them in farming and food.

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

Thrown to the Wolves!

Up until now I’ve refrained from commenting about a monumental lawsuit which has been brewing in my neck of the woods, the Delmarva Peninsula.  I’ve done so because I knew that despite public persona there would come a time when the little guy in the case would be offered up as the sacrificial lamb.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys for the Waterkeepers Alliance (plaintiffs) against co-defendants Perdue and Alan and Kristin Hudson (defendants) claims discharge of pollutants from the Hudson’s farm in violation of the Clean Water Act and that Perdue has legal responsibility for it.

Locally known as the “Hudson Lawsuit” the case has a lot of history and has turned neighbor against neighbor.  At the crux of the issue is that the Hudson’s raise chickens under contract for Perdue and do so accordingly to dictates by the company.  Since the farmer doesn’t own the chickens or the feed they eat its questionable as to who owns the manure (chicken poop).

In the beginning, claims by the Hudson’s and Perdue were that photographs of mountains of manure stored on the Hudson farm were piles of bio-solids (waste) from Ocean City, MD not chicken poop.  Regardless of what was in the photographs, at issue is that the farm, that houses Perdue’s chickens, is a point source of discharge of nitrogen, phosphorous, and ammonia as well as bacteria (fecal coliform and E Coli) which the Waterkeeper Alliance sampled at high levels downstream from the farm and also citing on-site and leaving the farm sampling conducted by the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE).  Plaintiffs say this “confirms the poultry house pollutants are reaching the facility’s drainage ditches.”

The drainage ditches on the farm drain into Franklin Branch a tributary of the Pocomoke River which drains into the Chesapeake Bay.  Nitrogen and phosphorous have been long standing culprits in the killing of the Chesapeake Bay and efforts to clean up the Bay and revive it to its natural state have failed miserably over the years at the cost of millions to taxpayers.

We have a volatile mixture of people involved and interested in the outcome of the lawsuit and this is where the story gets really good.  Earlier motions filed by Perdue attempted to have the company dismissed as a defendant in the case which was denied.  This puts Big Chicken into hot water because if found guilty a precedent will be set for the country where corporate ag is responsible for the manure their animals produce.  I say “their animals” because legally they own the chickens, not the farmer.

Backing up Big Chicken are the usual attendees such as the Delmarva Poultry Industry INC. (DPI) the local industry trade union, allied industries and Farm Bureau.

Farmers have been propaganda-ized to the point of fearing for their livelihoods and believe that the environmentalists want to put them out of business.

The environmentalists, taxpayers, and the local public have become the nemesis of the farming community and are accused of not getting how it all works.  Outsider’s is what they’ve been labeled.

Just recently Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, stepped outside the bounds of legal decorum weighing in on the case and in a letter asked attorney’s for the plaintiffs to drop the case.

If anyone is confused by now don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.  I specifically recall asking the question in 1995 – who owns the manure.  In all of the initiatives set out toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, no one, including our illustrious politicians, has answered that question in 16 years.  It’s come down to a lawsuit to determine the answer.

On November 17, 2011, court filings in U.S. District Court have asked for “summary judgment” in the case scheduled for a 3 week trial March 5, 2011.  Both sides presented arguments why the case should be resolved in their favor immediately.

This is where the story confirms my belief that the little guy (the farmer) would be thrown to the wolves.  Throughout the past couple of years Perdue and the camp followers have publically supported the Hudson’s, holding fund raisers for their legal defense fund and publishing a website in defense of the Hudson’s. Court documents recently filed cite internal Perdue email’s  – the Hudson Farm “is one of its 10 worst on the Eastern Shore of Maryland”.  This was based on an informal survey of Perdue farm managers.  I can only imagine what the farmer must think after staunchly defending Perdue.

Furthermore, in an effort to absolve the company from blame, Perdue legal arguments suggests ways that the judge could find the Hudson’s to be at fault for polluting – it was the Hudson’s cows that are the source of any pollutants.  I have to laugh because we have now moved from waste from Ocean City to waste from the cows.  In one deposition a suggestion is introduced that it was the wild geese.  Oh no folks, it can’t be from the chickens.

Perdue arguments also contend that Mr. Hudson “did not always follow Perdue’s advice”…  and “Mr. Hudson has not adopted various ‘best management practices,’ (such as hosing down the vents in a chicken house) recommended by Perdue.”

Could this be a case of “he who speaks with forked tongue”?  This is a perfect example of talking out of both sides of the mouth depending on who the target audience is at the moment.

I have to step up on my soap box…….  Big Chicken adamantly claims that they want to save farm families and then turn around and submit legal arguments to the contrary.  It reminds of little kids who get into trouble over something and they all claim “I didn’t do it” all the while coming up with some of the most ridiculous arguments as to why they shouldn’t be blamed and putting the blame off on another! PROPAGANDA – ized indeed!

Somewhere within the tangled web weaved practiced to deceive responsibility for pollution of the Chesapeake Bay from industry chicken poop will be decided.

I’ve spent countless hours reading over court documents.  Evasiveness and playing just plain dumb is the theme.  I especially loved reading some of the Perdue internal emails.  It’s quite obvious how the company big shots go about business.  One asks about farms that don’t have “curb appeal” meaning farms which don’t present a pretty picture.  Guess esthetically pleasing is now part of grower performance and whether the farmer has a contract to raise chickens for the company!

It’s my bet that the Hudson’s will not continue to contract with Perdue and more than likely any other chicken company on the Delmarva Peninsula.  It’s easy to sacrifice the little guy!

Relevant legal documents and court pleadings

Maryland Governor O’Malley Letter