US - Contract farmer Rudy Howell has collected more than 70,000 petition signatures urging Congress to ensure protections for poultry farmers who face reprisal for speaking out.
The Food Integrity Campaign (FIC, a programme of the Government Accountability Project) is backing Mr Howell’s petition, which stems from industry-wide reports of retaliation against contract farmers who raise concerns.
The petition follows a recent wave of criticism of big poultry companies in the US, by media, public figures and some politicians. Congresswoman Marty Kaptur, who campaigned extensively for poultry producers' rights, said that the recently passed agriculture funding bill provided a 'light at the end of the tunnel' as it would allow protections for contract farmers to be implemented.
Mr Howell’s petition aims to prevent any future legislative loopholes that could impede enforcement of existing protections.
Mr Howell, who has been raising birds for Perdue in North Carolina for 20 years, asserts that his employer and the other big chicken companies (including Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, and Sanderson Farms) deceive farmers and engage in practices that make it more difficult for contract farmers to get ahead in the business.
According to Mr Howell, the farmers have little to no say about how their operations run, and they can be punished if they don’t do exactly what the companies say.
In his petition, Mr Howell stated: “I contacted the Food Integrity Campaign because I was sick of what was happening to farmers like me and I wanted people to know the truth… Poultry farmers can barely survive, living life at or below the poverty line.
"This system leaves many of us with no way out and too afraid of retaliation to publicly challenge the system.”
FIC Director Amanda Hitt commented: “There’s a growing pool of brave contract farmers like Rudy Howell who are coming forward to expose Big Chicken’s bad behaviour.
"His story corroborates those of countless others who are being bullied into silence, even when they’re trying to address problems that the public cares about like food safety and animal welfare.
"These farmers need enforced protections so the industry can be held accountable and the public can be informed about the chicken they’re buying.”
While protections exist to empower honest farmers who want to expose industry wrongdoing, the FIC said that poultry companies persistently lobby Congress to block measures that would protect farmers who speak out.
The Change.org petition has gathered more than 70,000 signatures, with more expected.
Read our previous news item on this story: US Approves New Agriculture Funding Bill; Adds Protection for Poultry Farmers.