Chickens being fed

Action | July 10, 2015

John Oliver, Willie Nelson, Poultry Farmers, and You

by Alicia Harvie

Score one for the good guys in this oh-so-fun blood sport we call American politics.

You may remember a recent piece on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver covering American poultry farmers and the abuse they endure at the hands of big poultry companies. It’s a sharp, brave, moving, funny (and sometimes crass) look into an obscure battle to secure the most basic rights for poultry farmers. Take another look if you need a refresher (just remember its NSFW and not for the kiddos).

The fight has ensnared farmers and advocates for decades – and it’s one for which you good folks have joined us in taking action many times over the last several years. That hard work helped us win landmark provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect poultry and livestock farmers and to crack down on bad practices by major meat and poultry processors through a series of rules.

I’m not kidding when I tell you it’s a win many thought could never happen.

Even though USDA did its job – and a commendable one at that – the poultry and meatpacking lobby has pulled out all the stops to block the rules from going into effect. They’ve spent millions to lobby in Congressional alleyways, blocking the rules with language placed into funding bills. Meanwhile, they’ve tried to scare farmers by telling them these protections would ruin their markets and even engaged in some fear-mongering with consumers, saying these rules would raise the price of meat and poultry in the grocery aisle.

And frankly, they’d been winning. Year after year, these awesome rules that so many farmers were desperate to see enforced, languished because yet another bill de-funded or blocked USDA from doing anything. Farmers had some great friends in Congress fighting the good fight, but often to no avail. For the farmers seeing their prices drop, trapped in debt, and bullied from speaking out against unfair practices, the days had never seemed so dark.

Turning tide?

It was John Oliver’s piece that finally moved the needle again. Not only did he beautifully weave together complex facts with the testimony of poultry farmers, he also managed to do the impossible: make the House Appropriations Committee (ground zero of this fight), seem entertaining. On the heels of the piece, Willie Nelson sent a letter (read the PDF here) to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee urging them to finally side with farmers. We attended a critical briefing hosted by Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) to discuss this issue and hear directly from poultry growers.

This week, Rep. Kaptur and Willie Nelson penned an op-ed in The Washington Post highlighting the plight of America’s chicken farmers and urging the Appropriations Committee to do the right thing.

So the good news is that for the first time in years, the bill passed by the House committee without the long-standing amendment that has blocked protections for poultry farmers.

Finally, the light was shining down those seeking justice for poultry farmers.

Since then, we’ve been grateful to see thank you’s coming in from farmers across the country, including a warm statement from National Farmers Union.

But this game of chicken isn’t over.

The bad language could still show up on the House floor, in the Senate, or sneak in somewhere along the long road legislation takes to get to President Obama’s desk. And we could see the familiar Congressional gridlock devolve into another government shutdown, which could undermine all this good work with last minute deal-making.

We need you

As my mother often tells me: the truth always wins. If we are willing to join together in action, eventually, even painfully, after many twists and turns, what is right and true will prevail. It doesn’t just happen, but it can happen, if we work with diligence and steadfastness.

What we love about the Farm Aid audience is how willing you are not only to support the family farmer with the choices you make in the grocery aisle, but also to look past your plates and help with the big challenges where it takes many years to see change.

We’re so glad you’ve stuck with us all this time. Please stay tuned for further developments on this fight and for how you can Take Action with Farm Aid to protect our poultry farmers from corporate abuse!

Deal? Deal.

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