By: Brittany Friedel
Today buying meat in the United States is quite different than our not so distant past. We drive to the grocery store and walk to the ‘meat section.’ We look at a large variety of cuts and types of meat often giving very little, if any, thought to where that meat came from. We trust grocery stores and meat suppliers to provide us with what we think is good for our family.
We don’t even know what farm this pack of meat that we hold in our hands is located. We have no idea what that farm is like or how a rancher and their family lives. The average chicken farmer makes $13,900 to $20,000 per year, while larger farms have the potential for more income.
In the United States there are approximately 300 million meat eaters. Each year, 50 billion chicken eggs are produced and 8 billion chickens are consumed. Out of those numbers, 97 percent of eggs and chickens are produced through contract farming.
By definition, contract farming is agricultural production being carried out on the basis of an agreement between the buyer and farm producers. Contracts outline conditions for production of farm products and for their delivery to the buyer’s premises. What does that mean? The farmer owns the farm and equipment and the suppliers own the product. To put that in perspective, the average chicken farmer owes between $500,000 to $2 million on their farm land and equipment. Compare that with how much they earn and you will quickly realize that they are in debt up to their eyeballs!
The top suppliers of chicken in the United States are: Tyson, Pilgrim’s Sanderson Farms and Purdue Foods. With 97 percent of chickens being supplied by these major corporations, that leaves only 3 percent of chicken and eggs supplied by independent farmers. They are pinching the market, it is comparable to the current weather of the media industry.
Beyond just the fact that these ranchers are living under the poverty line and heavily in debt, these corporations also set the conditional mandates that dictate how the chickens are raised. These standards are not set to produce the best quality or healthiest meat for the consumer, they are profit driven. The goal is to produce high weight chickens for the lowest cost possible. The result? It is good for the suppliers and bad for the chickens which translates into, bad for the consumer.
What can be done? Watch the documentary, Under Contract: Farmers and the Fine Print produced by Sally Lee & Marcello Capellazzi. It is truly eye opening. Support for local, and independent farmers is growing yearby- year. Encourage your state senators and congressman to support local chicken farmers. You can show your support by buying locally or independently produced chicken. Local sources in Buffalo, NY are readily available at Lexington Co-op and Wegmans.