Hurricane Matthew has flooded several chicken farms in eastern North Carolina and left many out of power. When disaster strikes like this, farmers face may find themselves facing loss or damage to their home, to their land and essential farm equipment, and a long road to recovery and rebuilding. On top of that, as the flood waters receded chicken and livestock farmers will face another dilemma – they may have lost entire flocks, which can be hundreds of thousands of birds. In these catastrophic loss situations, farmers’ contracts make it clear that even though the companies technically own the birds while they are alive, the farmers themselves have to take on the burden and risk of disposing of the dead bird carcasses in a timely and safe way.
In 1999, The Baltimore Sun ran a three-part series on the poultry industry and the farmers caught up in the abusive contracts and paralyzing debt that have since become all too common in contract poultry production. The series began with “The Plucking of the American Chicken Farmer,” which detailed the ruination of poultry farmers and pinpointed how some major companies were even cheating their growers. Collectively, the series presented 10 months of investigative work conducted by reporters Dan Fesperman and Kate Shatzkin.