Poultry growers are no exception when it comes to struggling to earn a fair living. Many industries in the United States are becoming increasingly monopolized by a few very large corporations. As I mentioned in a previous post looking at poultry workers, four companies dominate the industry here – Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. They control nearly 60 percent of the market. This makes for a rigged market place (not a free one). The end result of this concentration of power is deceptive, anti-competitive, and abusive business practices.
Looking at poultry growers specifically, the local market is even more concentrated. The growers then only have a couple of companies in which to do business, which tilts the bargaining power in the hands of the company when negotiating contracts and prices.
The process of vertical integration has also been a very decisive cause of this unfairness in contract bargaining ie when most of the production components of the industry are consolidated/controlled by a single company.
There are a number of laws on the books that are supposed to protect poultry growers from unfair business practices. The Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) 1921 regulates meatpackers, livestock, poultry dealers, as well as middlemen in the industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for enforcing the PSA, but like many industries here, enforcement has been weak.
In recent years a number of poultry growers have given testimony to the USDA and Department of Justice. Rules were established in 2011 to protect the contracting process. But lobbyists managed to undermine this process by getting Congress to block the rules with riders and amendments. Congress lifted the ban last year though the future of the rules is still uncertain.
In the meantime an organization known as Farm Aid is trying to assist poultry growers by pushing for the completion of the USDA’s rules, as well as giving growers a voice in the media.
This includes: increasing market transparency with contracts and pay; ending the Tournament System which pits growers against one another for pay, establishing fairness in contracting, and ensuring first amendment rights without retaliation.