Poultry Industry Gathering on Sustainability Fails to Invite the Experts

This piece originally appeared at Food Safety News.

Poultry industry sustainability workshop excludes everyone who matters to sustainability

by Leah Garces, Compassion in World Farming USA Director

This week, the US. Poultry & Egg Association, the National Chicken Council, and the National Turkey Federation, will host a U.S. Poultry Industry Sustainability Workshop on May 24th and May 25th in Atlanta, GA.  Invited attendees included key poultry integrators, retailers, food service companies and restaurants. They have shut the doors, however, to any groups advocating to create sustainable solutions with regard to workers, farmers and animal welfare.

The current trend to keep stakeholders and consumers in the dark through ag-gag policies and through exclusion such as at this meeting, will only further work to degrade trust between the public and the poultry industry.  A  diverse collection of organizations banded together this week through a joint statement to request that the sustainability workshop and any future such discussion open their doors to a more collaborative process, whereby those most impacted by the poultry industry are included in the discussion shaping the future not just for the industry, but for our food and farming system.

The poultry industry has had a poor track record on three major areas of public concerns: workers, farmers and animal welfare.  A week does not go by without an abuse story reaching headlines. These come from a range of organizations with different interests from Oxfam America exposing processing workers wearing diapers because they don’t get bathroom breaks, to RAFI’s work to show injustices to the farmers, to Compassion in World Farming’s work to expose inhumane treatment of chickens. The signals are clear: the poultry industry is in serious public relations trouble.  Is this ‘sustainability workshop’ nothing more than a masked effort to get ahead of these troubled waters, rather than a true effort to solve these very real and serious problems facing the poultry industry?

Transparency and inclusion are critical to a sustainable food and farming system. Exclusion on the other hand, leads to lack of trust and missed opportunities for the best outcome.Investors are increasingly watching how the food industry manages the risks in its supply chain, in particular animal welfare. The future of the industry relies on good management of these areas, and that will require a transparent and collaborative approach

Over four years ago, the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply embarked on a similar process, one that ended in disaster for the egg industry. While the coalition defined five areas of sustainability (Animal Health and Well-Being, Food Safety and Quality, Environmental Impact, Worker Health and Safety, and Food Affordability), they too chose to exclude key groups that represented  consumers concerns. The result was, when the study emerged from the coalition in favor of enriched cages, it was sharply rejected by consumer and animal welfare advocates. Today, over 120 key food companies have gone against the coalition’s favoring of enriched cages, citing clear scientific and consumer rejection of cages. As the poultry industry embarks on a similar process as the egg industry, it would seem best practice to include, rather than exclude, groups from each of these sectors to ensure the best outcome.

If the industry does truly wish to sustain itself, and be sustainable, it must consider a more collaborative process. Sustainability of the industry does not mean business as usual or speaking in an echo chamber. It means working collaborative towards a truly sustainable practice, even when everyone is not in agreement.

The piece below was written by Jean Willoughby for From the Farmstand, the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) blog.

Breaking: Poultry Industry “Sustainability Workshop” Shuts Door to Farmers, Workers, Consumers, Animal Rights Groups

Maybe they’re just too chicken to invite us to the table. 

[published May 24, 2016]

Today and tomorrow, some of the biggest brands and players in the U.S. poultry industry are convening at the Hilton at the Atlanta Airport to talk “sustainability.” But they’re probably not going to be talking about that concept as you or I might be likely understand it. Instead, they’ve added some PR spin, saying that their meeting is about the sustainability of the industry. Whatever.

The attendees include both sides of the market, from the buyers (like Kroger and McDonald’s) to the producers (Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, and other major integrators). Organizations like RAFI that represent the farmers, workers, and animals–those most impacted by poultry production–were excluded from the meeting.

As long-time advocates for poultry and other livestock farmers, we requested an invitation to the workshop. (Maybe they just forgot to invite us, right?) We like to think that with more than 30 years of collective experience with the poultry industry and a nuanced understanding of what sustainability truly looks like, we have something to offer the industry’s discussion of this crucial issue. Unfortunately, along with other groups that work on a wide array of issues related to sustainability–from workers’ rights to consumer advocacy to animal rights–we found our request denied.

However, today is a turning point for us in another respect as we’re releasing a joint statement (see below) with a coalition of impressive organizations that are each doing important work to challenge the abusive practices of the poultry industry.

Like us, each of these organizations believes in an agricultural system that sustains thriving rural communities, and grants dignity and a fair livelihood to all who labor in agriculture.

For more than 25 years, our contract agriculture program has focused on defending the rights and livelihoods of farmers in the poultry industry, but we know that the way we produce the vast majority of our chicken and turkey is not sustainable in many ways. The industrial scale of poultry production today drives profits for a few big companies by squeezing farmers, exploiting workers, standardizing inhumane conditions for the birds, depleting communities, and jeopardizing environmental resources like clean water. We are proud to stand with our colleagues in demanding that industry leaders take sustainability seriously. Business as usual is not sustainable.

We’re grateful to be in such good company today, even as we’re collectively locked out of the poultry industry’s so-called effort to talk about sustainability.

The groups signing on to the letter include:

  • Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)
  • Oxfam America
  • Rural Advancement Foundation International
  • Humane Society of the United States
  • Government Accountability Project
  • The Contract Growers Association of the Virginias


The Letter

joint ltr to poultry industry sustainability

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