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USDA to Tighten Protections for Contract Farmers

Do these chickens look medicated?
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is finalizing rules aimed at increasing protections for contract farmers who grow the nation's poultry and cattle for giant meatpacking corporations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is finalizing rules aimed at increasing protections for contract farmers who grow the nation's poultry and cattle for giant meatpacking corporations.

Supporters of the changes said they will result in fairer pay for farmers and reduce deceptive and discriminatory industry practices, particularly against farmers of color.

Aaron Johnson, manager of the Challenging Corporate Power Program at the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, explained the rules involve updating transparency standards in the poultry industry and leveling the field for contract farmers to publicly advocate for better deals or speak out to the media on unfair practices.

"Most poultry growers, the vast majority of poultry growers, they don't own the chickens that are on their farm," Johnson explained. "Really, what the farmer is providing is the labor to take care of the chickens while they're on the farm."

Johnson pointed out livestock and poultry companies have a hard lobbying grip in Washington, noting a decade ago, the USDA attempted similar reforms but was blocked by Congress in finalizing or implementing them. Opponents of the new rules argued they could harm industry efforts to improve sustainability.

Johnson explains meatpacking corporations currently offer advantages to certain contract farmers over others, and with little oversight.

"The law is going to be updated to protect growers from deceptive contract terms, or from contracts that hide future provisions, like future requirements for upgrades."

He noted four mammoth corporations, JBS Foods, Marfrig, Seaboard and Tyson Foods, control 85% of all meatpacking operations in the U.S.