On Sunday, the New York Times ran a column by Nicholas Kristof that featured two poultry farmers that our staff has gotten to know well, Mike Weaver and Eric Hedrick. Both farmers appear in a documentary about the poultry industry RAFI is producing this year, Under Contract.
For growers like Mike and Eric, what the Times describes isn’t the way they want to raise chickens. They deal with higher levels of disease outbreak, breeding defects, and other conditions that are bad for the bird (and the farmer) because of the company’s choices, not their own.
Most of the chicken farmers that we know got into the business in part because they were sold a promise of autonomy. They were told they would be treated as independent contractors by the companies. What they typically find instead is that every detail of the business, from the air quality levels in the houses to the exact hours of light the birds should receive, is dictated to them by the companies. So much for independent poultry farming.
What’s worse, poultry growers proportionally carry the highest amount of debt compared to any sector in U.S. agriculture. Farmers leverage their homes and land to make an enormous investment in the business, but often find themselves deep in debt and without protections from abusive industry practices.
Our question is, quite simply, shouldn’t our farmers be treated with respect?
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