Chicken is consumed by Americans more than any other type of meat, and our appetite for it continues to grow year after year.
While chicken is pretty darn delicious, we're all familiar with the disgusting side of the industry that pertains to how the animals are treated as they're being raised.
While this is not a pretty scenario, there's another side to things that most people aren't aware of: treatment of the poultry farmers themselves. This subject was brought to light on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
There are four corporate juggernauts of the poultry industry, though around 97 percent of the chickens are actually raised by contracted farmers. These farmers are provided chicken and feed by the companies, but are required to have all of the expensive equipment that makes raising chickens possible. They take on huge risk, for which they would hope to be rewarded financially.
Unfortunately, they aren't paid in a way that is fair or even makes sense.
Essentially, Oliver explains that payment works by comparing poultry farmers in a certain region to one another. To come out on top, farmers try to produce the most pounds of meat while using the least amount of feed.
The farmers are ranked, and the top half of the group receives their full pay plus some bonuses, while the bottom half receives substantial pay deductions or will even lose their contracts, which ultimately means losing their farms.
This situation is hardly fair, given that all of the farmers in a region could do extremely well, but the nature of the pay scale severely punishes half of the group no matter what.
Though the problem is pretty bad, most people don't know it exists because the deck is stacked against farmers and anyone else who wants to whistleblow on these deplorable conditions.
The video states that farmers who complain about their situation are often given poor quality chickens, which sets them up for failure when it comes time to divvy up the payouts, if they are even allowed to continue contract farming at all. At the risk of losing their farms, these farmers are scared into submission, and no real change can be made.
In recent years, there have been some rules put into place, but the same legislation prohibits the USDA from actually doing anything about it.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) has championed the farmers' rights.
"The Department of Agriculture wants to enforce these regulations so that farmers have standing, and that they don't have their livelihoods taken away from them simply because they're allowed to speak about their conditions," she emphatically stated to the appropriations committee. "What is wrong with that? What is wrong with that? What is wrong with that is the companies in this situation have too much power. Those doing the work in these houses don't have enough power. We need to give them equal standing in the courts and in their ability to come and see us and to exercise their right to free speech."
While she fell short in that particular effort, she is about to try again in another month.
John Oliver believes he can drum up the support Kaptur needs, and his solution is fairly brilliant. Check it out here:
If your representative is on that committee, share this article with them and put them on notice.
[Header image credit: Screen shot of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver]