MEDIA RELEASE: NPR features RAFI’s work today in story about new book, The Meat Racket
Decades of RAFI’s work highlight abusive relationship between contract poultry growers and chicken companies
PITTSBORO, NC (Feb. 19, 2014) – Today, NPR aired a national radio story with an accompanying article titled “Is Tyson Foods’ Chicken Empire A ‘Meat Racket’?” in which journalist Christopher Leonard discusses his new exposé on the chicken industry. The story mentions the Rural Advancement Foundation International’s (RAFI) persistent work with farmers in “fighting against concentration in the poultry and meat-packing industries for many years.”
Since 1990, RAFI has convened the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform to provide a voice for farmers and ranchers in contract agriculture and to ensure that the producer relationship is fair, balanced and transparent. RAFI’s approach enables growers to directly and personally advocate for change.
For nearly 50 years, the poultry industry has been fully vertically integrated and dominated by contract production. In the NPR story, Leonard echoes what RAFI witnesses each day: this structure “keeps farmers in a state of indebted servitude, living like modern-day sharecroppers on the ragged edge of bankruptcy.”
In these contracts, a farmer never owns the birds. The farmer provides the facility, the labor and the management for their raising and accepts the associated risk. Farmers commit to extensive debt, often financed over 15 years with their homes as collateral, to pay for the production facility while the company can alter or end the contract at any time. A debt of $1.5 million for a new producer would not be unusual.
“Farmers who speak up risk everything they own. Industry retaliation is well documented,” says RAFI Executive Director Scott Marlow. “Contracts allow companies to control excess production capacity with no cost, and to reduce their production capacity without cost. The price of cheap chicken is the exploitation of people, land and animals.”
RAFI reports that while the industry has cut off hundreds of producers, it is seeing record profits and huge growth. Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation’s earnings for the second quarter of 2013 were double that of 2012, at $264.6 million, with net income up 175% over the same quarter the previous year. The company’s bankruptcy in 2008 led to cutting off hundreds of farmers in North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana.
According to one analyst the poultry companies will see their highest profits in 30 years in 2013. In the third quarter of 2013, Tyson’s chicken segment set a new earnings record of $220 million, up from $159 million the third quarter of 2012.