Today Farm Action urged the USDA to not only swiftly implement its rule increasing transparency in the contract poultry growing industry, but to ban the use of the tournament system outright. Farm Action’s public comments emphatically assert that the tournament system, in which growers must compete for a price they will be paid for raising poultry, is intrinsically unfair because it lacks a base price guarantee. Furthermore, growers’ bonuses are not paid by the company, but are instead docked from other growers’ paychecks.
Farm Action goes on to state that government action to protect poultry growers is long overdue. And while the transparency rule is critically important, it is insufficient: Its successful implementation will not correct the power imbalance that prevents growers from enjoying any autonomy in their business operations and from earning a fair living.
Concrete evidence for this fundamental power imbalance has surfaced in recent weeks: Mountaire and Purdue, two powerful poultry corporations, apparently provided their respective contract growers with form comments and pressured them to oppose the rule. In a statement announcing the extended comment period for the rule, the USDA emphasized that comments can be made anonymously, acknowledging that farmers may not speak up out of fear of retaliation.
“Purdue and Montaire’s coercion proves how valuable the tournament system is to corporations as a tool for controlling farmers,” said Sarah Carden, Policy Advocate at Farm Action. “Corporations’ ability to hold financial ruin over farmers’ heads is so persistent and so widespread in this scheme that no amount of transparency will make it right. It’s past time to end it and implement a fairer payment system for farmers.”
Farm Action’s comments on this ruling are part of an ongoing campaign to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, a 100-year-old law to protect livestock and poultry producers from unfair monopolistic market practices.
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