“Farmers see that the consequence of this integration is the loss of control at the farm level, the loss of prosperity at the farm level, and the concentration of power. […]
“Farmers see that the consequence of this integration is the loss of control at the farm level, the loss of prosperity at the farm level, and the concentration of power. When you say ‘chickenization’ in rural America, it’s shorthand for a system of power… where farmers are really like sharecroppers.”
Christopher Leonard is the author of The Meat Racket. As a former national agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press, Leonard has spent over a decade following the growth of big meat and investigating its impacts. He has interviewed hundreds of farmers over the years and has seen first-hand how the contract system for raising chickens evolved into what it is today.
We met Chris at his current post, as a Schmidt Fellow at New America in DC. We basically challenged him to summarize the history and impacts of the poultry industry in two hours. The result was a fascinating interview that summed up many of the complexities and harsh realities of chicken production that we have seen in the past month.
An especially interesting connection he makes in this interview, is the direct impact that corporate concentration has on farmers. If only 3 companies control the vast majority of the meat market for chickens, that creates a huge power imbalance between them and the farmers that grow for them. The rights and negotiating power of the farmers is reduced to almost nothing, creating a power dynamic like the sharecropping system of the south.
Check out the video for more details!