US - A US government committee has approved funding for the 2016 fiscal year agriculture budget, and there are indications it could help to protect American poultry farmers from unscrupulous practices by big processing companies.
The House Appropriations Committee recently approved the fiscal year 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill on a voice vote.
The proposed legislation funds important agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, marketplace oversight, and nutrition programs. It covers funding for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and all of the agencies under it, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Campaign organisation Food and Water Watch said in a press release that it believes the new bill represents some progress in the long fight to "seek justice for poultry farmers".
There has recently been a lot of press covering the treatment of chicken farmers by the processors in the US, as the industry is dominated by only a few companies, which often have local monopolies if they own the only processing plants in the area that farmers are able to sell birds to.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and musician Willie Nelson, also the president of the charity Farm Aid, said that the constitutional rights of poultry farmers were "under siege". They said that poultry producers often have to accept whatever terms the processors offer, which they see as breeching the producers' rights to free speech, preventing them from speaking out against unfair practices.
Both the Washington Post article and the Food and Water Watch charity say that the 2008 Farm Bill contained the first measures to protect poultry farmers from unfair practices, but limitations were added to various bills since then to prevent these measures taking effect through lack of funding.
However, these limitations have now been removed from the new funding bill.
“For decades, America’s contract poultry farmers have suffered widespread abuse at the hands of the poultry industry,” commented Ms Kaptur.
“This is a system that buries farmers in debt and then intimidates them with threats and financial punishment if they speak out or resist unfair contract terms.
"Today, for the first time in many years, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for these long-suffering farmers. Please allow me to thank the leaders and members of the Appropriations Committee for joining us in taking a major step toward real enforceable protections for our meat and poultry growers.”
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a farmer by trade and leader on this issue, and a member of the House Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee, said: “It’s crazy that we had to fight so long to guarantee poultry farmers their rights to speak freely, but I’m glad they are finally going to get those protections.
"There are few things more American than farming and free speech, and it’s high time that we made sure these farmers are able to fully enjoy these fundamental rights.
"Representative Kaptur was tireless in this fight. She and many others have earned this important win for America’s contract farmers."