Chicken is one of the most popular and versatile foods in the country, but most factory-farmed poultry is raised with antibiotics — which leads to antibiotic resistance in humans. Now, the USDA wants to cut the budget for poultry inspections and allow big chicken companies to police themselves, and they moved recently to approved imports of processed chicken from China — a country that has had major food safety debacles. This holiday season, will the poultry you sit down to enjoy be industrially produced, processed half a world away, and full of chemicals, antibiotics and worse?
Since there are no guarantees, you may want to avoid buying poultry produced by the biggest chicken producers. There are big reasons to avoid chicken grown by the biggest poultry companies. JBS, Tysons, Perdue and Sanderson slaughter and process more than half of the chicken consumed in the United States, which gives them significant market and lobbying power. These companies act as middlemen between farmers and consumers, and they eat up most of the profit in the supply chain.
Before you sit down to your holiday turkey, consider these four facts:
• Because there are just a handful of players in the poultry market, these companies are able to call all the shots — and reap large profits. For every $19 twelve-piece chicken bucket from KFC, only 25 cents goes to the farmer that raised the poultry, while $3–5 goes to the chicken processor. (The rest goes to KFC.)
• These large companies use unfair contracts, require expensive equipment and building upgrades, and employ other aggressive tactics to squeeze poultry farmers to produce more and more chickens for less and less money.
• The big chicken companies own everything from the chicks and the feed to the trucks, the slaughter facilities, and the brand. The grower assumes all the debt associated with the operation, including the mortgages on the special buildings they have to construct to get a contract. The farmer also shoulders the expenses of utilities and of removing waste and dead birds.
• Concentrating poultry production means concentrating the amount of waste seeping off of factory farms into nearby waterways (like the Chesapeake Bay). These big companies like Perdue leave the farmers to shoulder all the responsibility for dealing with the waste.
Need more reasons to avoid chicken produced by heavyweights like Tysons and Perdue?
Consider that their market power begets enormous political power — and these companies throw their weight around to make sure they can continue producing the most birds for the most profit — never mind what this factory farming model of production means for poultry producers, consumers and the environment.
Nothing showcases the power Big Ag holds over our political leaders more than emails revealed last year between Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland, and poultry giant Perdue, Inc., which illustrated how Perdue’s profits from chicken sold in California and Michigan are being used to exert inappropriate power over O’Malley through intense lobbying efforts on everything from poultry litter incineration to the environmental cases that a university law clinic engages in.
If you buy your chicken or turkey from the grocery store, chances are that you are buying a brand owned by one of these large companies. Consider seeking out independent farmers who sell direct to consumers instead.
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch (foodandwaterwatch.org) and author of Foodopoly: The Future of Food and Farming in America (Foodopoly.org).
From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2013
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