For America’s remaining 30,000 poultry growers, the Department of Justice and USDA’s joint workshop on competition in the poultry industry held last Friday in Normal, Alabama has been a long time coming. For some, it arrived too late. As the second of five DOJ/USDA hearings to be held across the country this year, a number of attendees felt this hearing was more balanced than the previous hearing in Iowa, but still left many wondering what the overall impact these hearings would have in such a highly consolidated industry which continues to force so many family farmers out of business.
Of the seven chicken producers that opened the session’s morning Roundtable Discussion on Poultry Grower Issues, four of the farmers were “former producers,”which was a foreshadowing of the theme of the day; that poultry farmers daily face fear, uncertainty and intimidation from those companies they contract with, otherwise known as “integrators.”
In the weeks leading up to the Alabama workshops, many poultry farmers across the country reported threats from the broiler company representatives, warning them that they would face negative consequences if they spoke at the event, or even attended.
Sitting next to Secretary Vilsack, former North Carolina poultry grower Kay Doby told the audience, “The growers that are here today are in jeopardy because of intimidation by company personnel. They’re taking a big risk. Every grower here is taking a big risk.”
One poultry grower I spoke with the day before the event, refused to give the name of the company that he contracted under or even the state he lived in for fear that they would find out he attended the event. This type of intimidation is a clear sign of just how powerful and arrogant these companies have grown; that in the face of a Department of Justice investigation, they feel comfortable enough to make these types of threats to farmers simply trying to air their grievances to their government.