Friday, June 07, 2019

Some chicken farmers reconsider support of Trump after his USDA scrapped rules protecting them, eased up on packers

Mike Weaver stands between chickenhouses that stand idle because the chicken company he contracted with asked him
to give up his right to sue it, a business practice briefly prohibited by Obama-era rules. (ProPublica photo by Annie Flanagan)
Some of the nation's 25,000 contract chicken farmers voted for Donald Trump because they were disappointed in Barack Obama's failure to check the power of big meat processors, but now some say Trump isn't helping much either, Isaac Arnsdorf reports for ProPublica. "Chicken farmers who considered themselves staunch Trump supporters say their worsening circumstances since he took office are making them reconsider their votes," Arnsdorf writes.

During Obama's tenure, "Farmers complained that they had been lured into the business with rosy profit projections only to discover that the processing companies — which they depend on for supplies of chicks and feed — could suddenly change their contract terms to impose additional costs or drop them for any reason," Arnsdorf reports. The Obama administration did adopt rules meant to address those problems, but not until a month after the election.

"Over the last two years, Trump appointees have not only reversed the regulations put in place at the end of Obama’s presidency, they have retreated from enforcing the pre-existing rules," Arnsdorf notes. "The Trump administration dissolved the office charged with policing meat companies for cheating and defrauding farmers. Fines for breaking the rules dropped to $243,850 in 2018, less than 10 percent of what they were five years earlier."

Tony Grigsby, a retired police officer in Alabama who recently quit raising chickens, told Arnsdorf that he enthusiastically supported Trump, but wishes the administration hadn’t scrapped Obama’s regulations. “I hear the president saying he’s doing things for the American farmer,” Grigsby said, “but it’s almost like it’s only a certain percentage.”

The administration's support of meatpackers over farmers highlights Trump's ties with the industry: He got a $2 million donation from a poultry magnate during the campaign and installed several industry insiders on the transition team or in the Agriculture Department, Arnsdorf reports.

Mike Weaver told Arnsdorf that he gave up raising chickens along the Allegheny Front in Fort Seybert, West Virginia, after the company he contracted with wanted him to waive his right to sue. Obama's rules would have prevented that. "I made excuses for [Trump] for a while, thinking he’s going to eventually get a grasp on the dire situation small family farmers are in," Weaver said. "It hasn’t happened yet. If it doesn’t happen by the next election, I’m going to tell everybody some of the promises he made were never kept and I don’t see it changing."

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