When you hear people speaking about the evils of the commercial chicken farming industry, the focus is usually the animal cruelty involved and/or the harmful environmental impact. Now John Oliver is shining a spotlight on a lesser known but also reprehensible aspect of the business, the exploitation of independent poultry growers by the corporate chicken industry.
In a recent segment on his Last Week Tonight show, Oliver took a hard (though still hilarious) look into the unpleasant realities of life as a modern American chicken grower. The segment reveals that even though chicken consumption is at an all time high in the U.S., chicken growers often live below the poverty line. The reason is the often unfair (and some would say even criminal) policies of the four major chicken producers (Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim's, and Sanderson Farms) in regard to the contract farmers who work for them.
While the corporations own the chickens, growers must provide all the equipment and production costs themselves. Often going into business already in debt, growers are also constantly met with demands for equipment upgrades. While this may sound like a good thing on the surface, the fact is that more efficient chicken farming does not necessarily mean healthier chickens.
Corporations seek bigger chickens with more meat produced in the shortest amount of time regardless of the health impact on the chickens. Farmers concerned about the quality of life of their chickens are often barred from making changes such as allowing the birds access to light and more activity.
Farmers are also placed in competition with one another for access to the best quality chicks. Many reveal that farmers that "ask too many questions" or have a history of complaining end up with the lowest quality birds.
You may be asking yourself why growers get into the business if they feel it is so corrupt. In the video, corporate representatives ask the same question, to which a farmer has a simple response - they were lied to.
Oliver's exposé also reveals the limited recourse growers have legally. Federal laws to give them the right to voice their concerns are often stopped in their tracks by lawmakers under the influence of corporations.
So what can you do? The end of Oliver's video lists lawmakers you can contact to demand equal legal voice for poultry farmers. Oliver suggests branding those who don't vote in favor of farmer protective laws as "chickenf*ckers", but you don't have to be that aggressive to get the job done.
Consumers can also go straight to the source to show their support for poultry growers. Contact the chicken brands you buy and demand better treatment of their contract farmers. In my perfect world, no one would eat chicken at all. If you want to eat it, of course that is your right, but I think we can all agree that the chicken on your table shouldn't come at the expense of the rights of another human.https://youtu.be/X9wHzt6gBgI&h=500