Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poultry growers and processors debate proposed rules feds say are designed to protect growers

Independent poultry growers and large poultry-processing companies are at odds over proposed federal rules to govern their relationships. Growers currently follow contracts they sign with processing companies like Tyson Foods, but new federal rules would "give growers more time to fix problems before their contracts are canceled, require processing companies to give growers more notice before suspending delivery of birds to their farms and prohibit companies from retaliating against growers who speak out against their contracts," Lorraine Mirabella of The Baltimore Sun reports. You can read our report about the proposed changes here.

Conversely, "chicken processing companies argue that their flock-to-flock contract system gives growers a guaranteed market and little risk, since the companies provide the chicks, feed and delivery services," Mirabella writes. The federal proposals, mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill, would also prevent growers from being forced to make expensive upgrades on their poultry houses without protections to safeguard those investments and limit the ability of processors to cancel contracts when growers made big investments to get a contract.

"Things have changed drastically as small mom-and-pop poultry operators and farmers' co-ops around the country have been bought up by Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride and other megacorporations" such as Perdue Foods, Mike Weaver, president of the Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias, told Mirabella. "They've changed the rules in their favor. Once they took over, they started making their own rules. We got in a position of 'You either do this, or you're not going to get chickens anymore.' The growers are sick of it."

Processing companies counter the changes would cause unnecessary uncertainty in the system. "The current system has been working quite well for both Perdue and the more than 2,200 independent farms we now have who are raising poultry for Perdue, and many have been growing for Perdue for many generations," Luis A. Luna, Perdue's vice president of corporate communications, told Mirabella. "They produce a product for which they have a guaranteed customer." (Read more)

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