On Monday, our staff hosted ten current and former contract chicken farmers on a visit to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for a screening of our upcoming documentary film, Under Contract, which featured their stories.
Farmers had the opportunity to meet directly with their legislators to urge their support of the USDA’s Farmer Fair Practice Rules. They flew in from rural farming communities all across the southeast, representing Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, and North Carolina, and carrying a common message to their lawmakers:
Farmers deserve fairness, and the Farmer Fair Practice Rules (also known as the GIPSA rules) will be a long-overdue first step in the right direction.
We co-sponsored the screening and farmer panel before an audience of Congressional staff, DC-based organizations, members of press, and the public. We sponsored this event alongside our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Farmers Union, the National Family Farms Coalition, Farm Aid and Food and Water Watch. Our first ever full-length documentary film, Under Contract, will be released officially online on February 1, 2017. The film documents the experience and struggle of contract chicken farmers, many of whom made the journey to DC for this screening. Their stories reveal the urgent need for common-sense regulations like the Farmer Fair Practice Rules, which USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) plans to release by the end of the year, after five years of being held up by Congress.
At the event, farmers were able to see the film on the big screen for the first time. “I was a part of this film because I wanted to bring awareness to consumers about what is actually going on with how their food is produced” said Eric Hedrick, a West Virginia chicken farmer who brought his wife and two daughters with him to the event. He is facing possible bankruptcy after raising chickens for more than a decade. “This is just about fairness. People need to realize I am a businessman too, I need to be able to run my business.”
Representative Chellie Pingree (ME), a long time supporter of farmers rights and the Farmer Fair Practice Rules, officially hosted the event. “For too long, Congress has turned a deaf ear to the plight of contract chicken farmers and taken sides with the large companies who have these farmers under their thumb” said Representative Pingree. “The Farmer Fair Practices rules are long overdue and drastically needed to level the playing field in the livestock industry. I applaud Secretary Vilsack for helping to protect the rights of farmers, and I will oppose any attempt to stop or delay these common-sense rules.”
Farmers who joined us in DC also took the time to meet with their representatives, bringing their message directly to decision makers. “Yesterday at our meeting with Sen. Cochran’s (MS) aide, he took the time to listen to us in depth” said Daniel Teague, a farmer from the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. “At least he is hearing what the farmer is up against. We need listening ears now.”
At a dinner reception before the main event, farmers were joined by several legislators that were indeed willing to listen, including Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME), Senator John Tester (MT). Representative Marcy Kaptur’s (OH) staff also spoke at the event.
The personal appearance and participation of these legislators was clearly meaningful for the farmers that traveled to DC. “I told my daughter, how often do you get to go to dinner and sit at the table and have a conversation with a Senator?” said Hedrick. “What we’re asking for are just basic protection for farmers. This is plain and simple fairness. Our legislators and the government are the only ones that can regulate the troubles that we’re having in this industry.”