On December 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released proposed “Farmer Fair Practices Rules” to strengthen protections for small livestock and poultry farmers against unfair competition or retaliatory practices by large companies.
These days, many farmers work as “contract growers.” They don’t actually own the animals they raise—they’re owned by large “integrating” companies that control most aspects of the production chain. Farmers are required to follow company protocols, which generally keep animals packed into crowded, sealed warehouses with little ability to move, engage in natural behaviors or even see sunlight or grass. They are often not permitted to offer the animals even such basic comforts as adequate space, fresh air, indoor enrichments or outdoor access. The USDA’s proposed rules aim, in part, to curb “unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive” practices that leave farmers in a worse bargaining position for pursuing desired changes. They also aim to support farmers’ “rights of speech and association,” increasing their ability to criticize company policies and seek improvements.
The poultry industry also commonly pits farmers against each other to determine their payments for each flock raised, rewarding those whose birds gain the most weight using the least amount of feed. Given the widespread suffering of broiler chickens from fast growth and heavy weight, this arrangement hurts both farmers and animals.
The fact that Big Ag lobbyists such as the National Chicken Council and the National Pork Producers Council claim the USDA’s proposals “strangle” and “devastate” their industries indicates just how dependent on cruelty large corporations have become.
The ASPCA will urge the USDA to move forward with passing strong regulations to protect farmers, because animals suffer when farmers are under constant pressure to produce more for less. In the meantime, we urge consumers to seek out and demand products certified by legitimate animal welfare programs that provide better conditions for animals and also respect and empower farmers. Pledge to Shop With Your Heart to learn more and get started.