Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Focuses on the Poultry Industry

Playing Chicken

On Sunday, HBO aired a new episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about the poultry industry. RAFI’s Executive Director, Scott Marlow, as well as several RAFI staff members, worked closely with show producers to provide important information about the topic.

“How can the people who make the meat we eat the most barely be making a living?” – John Oliver

John Oliver explains how chicken farming can be unfair, punishing, and inhumane. And not just for the chickens!

John Oliver starts out by pointing out that the intent of the episode is not to focus on the treatment of chickens, but rather the treatment of chicken farmers. What follows is a delightfully witty and informative piece, interspersing chicken jokes with hard facts.

Oliver quips that “Poultry companies would have you believe chicken farmers have it made, smiling in their promotional videos, ALWAYS, no matter what the company, over the top of jangly guitar music.” It is a witticism that gains momentum as the show unfolds, showing clip after clip that supports the claim.

Oliver illustrates how the chicken industry baits farmers to sign abusive contracts and thrusts them into a “tournament system” of competition that pits neighbor against neighbor.“Losing a tournament and being labeled a bad grower cannot just cost a neighbor their home, it can cost them a lot more,” Oliver points out.

Testimony about unfair contracts and payments follows, supported by the powerful words of farmers captured on films including “The Sharecroppers” (2010), “Cock Fight” (2015) and “Under Contract” (2015). (RAFI is a Media Partner for the film Under Contractand has worked closely with the producers Sally Lee and Marcello Cappellazzi.)

Speaking Out Could Cost Them The Farm
RAFI ran this ad in major newspapers advocating for legislation to protect farmers from retaliation for speaking out about unfair practices.

Craig Watts, Kay Doby, and Mike Weaver are a few of the farmers whose testimonies are captured in interviews and film footage shown in the Last Week Tonight segment.Oliver highlights the importance of these statements because of anti-whisteblower tactics used by the poultry companies against farmers.

In one clip, a farmer from Alabama points out that only 2 of 650 poultry farmers in his entire state appeared at a hearing because they feared retribution for speaking out about the actions of the poultry companies.

Related: Growers Explain Injustices in the Poultry Industry

Another topic covered is the reality of a political system that uses bill riders in the appropriations process that prevent the actual enforcement of protective rules for poultry farmers.

Since the show couldn’t cover this area in detail, here are some links for more information about the use of riders in the appropriations process:

Though we will not repeat Oliver’s words verbatim, his call to action is clear: when Representatives like Marcy Kaptur or other members of Congress propose legislation that would protect farmers from company retaliation, members of the Appropriations Committee should vote to support it – or else lose credibility!

To view a list of current members of the U.S. House of Rep. Committee on Appropriations referenced in the segment visit: https://www.rafiusa.org/blog/appropriations.

To watch the segment on Youtube visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9wHzt6gBgI.

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