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Perdue disputes claims made in viral poultry video
By JONATHAN CRIBBS
WASHINGTON (June 16, 2015) — A comedic 18-minute broadside on the poultry industry that aired on a popular HBO comedy show last month criticizing the contracts Perdue and other chicken companies sign with their growers was inaccurate, a Perdue official said last week.
The commentary piece, which aired May 17 on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” claimed major poultry companies — including Perdue and Tyson — trap growers in unfair contracts that can force them into poverty and a tournament system that pits them against their neighbors while harming the animals.
Producers “own the property and the equipment, and [the companies] own the chickens. That essentially means you own everything that costs money, and we own everything that makes money,” Oliver said. “Because typically chicken farmers go into a great deal of debt just to go into the business, and the moment you sign that contract, the chicken companies have a lot of leverage over you.”
Perdue, however, has a long history with its growers, said Julie DeYoung, company spokesperson.
“Obviously, we don’t think the program gave an accurate portrayal of the relationship between the poultry companies and the vast majority of farmers who choose to raise chickens under contract,” she said in an e-mail to The Delmarva Farmer. “Perdue has been contracting with farmers since the 1950s, and we currently have contracts with more than 2,000 farm partners, many of whom have been with our company across multiple generations.”
DeYoung also cited a standing company statement on its poultry contract system that said the contract system is designed to insulate growers from the volatility of the poultry and grain markets.
It also said growers must be expected to continue investment in their houses to meet new regulations and advancements in poultry technology so they remain competitive.
But in his monologue, Oliver praised Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who pushed unsuccessfully last year in the House Appropriations Committee to insert two agriculture funding bill amendments that would have sought to protect growers who speak out against abuses from their poultry companies.
The first amendment would have allowed the USDA to finalize regulations that Kaptur said would end abuses and anti-competitive practices that hurt family farmers and livestock producers while making poultry contract relationships more fair.
The other would have struck a provision in legislation that she said prevents farmers from exercising free speech rights during the bargaining process.
Of the three Delmarva congressmen who serve on the committee now — C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, Andy Harris and Scott Rigell — only one served on it when Kaptur’s amendments were under consideration: Harris, a Republican whose district includes the entire Eastern Shore of Maryland. He voted against both of Kaptur’s failed amendments.
It remains to be seen how Delmarva congressmen new to the committee would vote if the issue comes up once more.
Kaptur may pursue it again, spokesperson Matt Sonneborn said.
“If it happens again, it’ll happen again,” he said.
Harris’ office did not respond to a call and e-mail for comment.
Ruppersberger, D-Md., is new to the committee and still needs to review the issue, his spokesperson said, and a spokesperson for Rigell, R-Va., also didn’t respond to a call for comment. Rigell’s district encompasses all of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
In a profane tirade at the end of his piece, Oliver urged committee members to support Kaptur or new regulations this time around and intimated that viewers could repeatedly edit and deface the Wikipedia pages of congressmen who vote against growers’ interests.
It wouldn’t be the first time Oliver has called on viewers to protest publicly.
He criticized the Federal Communications Commission in June 2014 when it was considering allowing cable companies to charge customers different Internet access rates based on traffic, busting the Internet’s so-called “net neutrality.”
In a similarly comic rant, Oliver urged viewers to flood the FCC’s public comment page, which quickly overloaded the agency’s website and shut it down.
The FCC eventually changed its stance.
A YouTube video of his net neutrality rant logged more than 9 million views.
As of press time, Oliver’s poultry video had more than 2 million.