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November, 2012 | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: November 2012

November 29th, 2012

Helping a Farm Family Keep Their Home

By Scott Edwards

The Crutchfields

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about an Arkansas farm family, Karen and Mitchell Crutchfield, who were being swindled out of their home and land by the indecency of Tyson Foods, Inc. and the Farm Credit of Western Arkansas. The tragic tale of the Crutchfields sadly epitomizes the plight of small farmers across the United States where the big food giants – the Tysons, Perdues, Smithfields and a small handful of others – treat their contract growers like serfs while increasingly monopolizing the meat production market.

That posting elicited a number of responses from readers who expressed outrage over Tyson’s mistreatment of the Crutchfields; some asked how they could help.  Well, here’s a couple of ways. Next time you walk into a supermarket and you’ve got that package of Tyson chicken in your hand, think about the Crutchfields. Think about the contract grower who is getting less than 5 cents for that pound of chicken you’re about to buy. Then put it back and find an alternative: maybe local, organic, sustainably raised chicken instead. You might pay a little more because Perdue and Tyson have stacked the deck against sustainable operations, but its one way we can start to reform this industry and level the playing field for those growers who don’t want to work under the yolk of the giant meat companies.

And while we may not be able to save all the small farmers who are on the verge of collapse today because of the indecency of the big integrators, a small group of us are determined to help the Crutchfields keep their home. One way you can help is by sending a donation to the Crutchfields through Paypal. You can sign up (or log in) and send money to their account using the tab at the top navigation of the Paypal site (where it says “Send Money”) and enter the Crutchfield’s email address: [email protected]. For those who don’t use Paypal, you can send a small donation to the Crutchfields at:

Granny Creek Farm
P.O. Box 30
Hagarville, Arkansas 72839

It might be only one farm family out of the many who are struggling, but it’s a start. Every dollar given will be going in its entirety to help the Crutchfields get through a bankruptcy proceeding in a way that will enable them to keep their house. The Crutchfields deserve to spend these coming holidays and their retirement years in the home they built, on the land they’ve worked.

What’s happened to the Crutchfields is part of a widespread exploitation of the farmers who occupy the lower rungs in our current food production system. After growing chickens for Tyson for 25 years, the Crutchfields are on the verge of losing their home and land just because they were nearing retirement age and wanted to get out of Tyson’s and the Farm Credit’s vicious, unending cycle of upgrades and debt. Consider this: over the 25 years that the Crutchfields were under contract with Tyson they raised somewhere around 13,139,400 birds. That’s over 70 million pounds of chicken that this one family put onto the dinner plates of Americans, perhaps even yours. Back in 1987, when the Crutchfields began their work for Tyson, the store price per pound for whole birds was around 47.5 cents. The Crutchfields were paid 4 cents for each pound they raised – Tyson kept the rest. By 2012 the store price per pound of whole chicken had doubled, to around 93.5 cents. The Crutchfields contract price over that same time? That rose ¾ of a penny to 4.75 cents per pound. And that’s where the Crutchfield’s contract price stood last March when Tyson and the Farm Credit cut their feet out from under them for refusing to go another $300,000 in debt. These underpayments are just one way that a handful of companies like Tyson have improper control over our food systems – there are many more.

Tyson likes to pretend they care. They talk about core values and partnerships with their contract growers. The blog I posted two weeks ago even prompted a Tyson representative to invite me down to headquarters to take a tour, as if it matters what I might think of them. I responded by saying I’d be glad to come if the Crutchfields could come with me and we could discuss what really matters – finding a way to save the Crutchfields from losing their home. I didn’t hear back.

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November 27th, 2012

Fish Meat: The Movie

Seafood ChallengesBy Mitch Jones

I recently had a chance to watch the documentary Fish Meat, which explores various ways of farming fish. Fish Navy Films produced the movie and, full-disclosure, they interviewed me earlier this year for their next film, Raising Shrimp.

It is a short film that focuses on production of fish in the Mediterranean and South America, and it highlights many of the concerns we at Food & Water Watch have about farming fish. Farming large carnivorous fish is an inefficient use of smaller fish that have to be harvested in large numbers so they can be turned into fish food. In recent years as much as 90 percent of the catch of these small fish has been used by the aquaculture industry. And we know that soy doesn’t offer much of an alternative.

The film makes clear that open ocean aquaculture is a dirty, unsustainable way to raise fish that not only pollutes local environments, but also puts local fishermen out of work. The filmmakers note that the rise of factory fish farms in Turkey is turning coastal communities that have been fishing communities for centuries (or more) into ecotourism destinations. Ways of life are being displaced and people are losing their livelihood so a dirty form of agribusiness can move into the waters off Turkey’s coast.

It’s not surprising that the filmmakers are more impressed by inland fish farms that raise vegetarian fish. We have long advocated use of land-based Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), closed systems that reuse virtually all of the water initially put into the system. As a result, RAS can reduce the discharge of waste and the need for antibiotics or chemicals used to combat disease and fish and parasite escapes – all serious concerns associated with OOA and pond aquaculture.

Perhaps the best advice from the film comes only in the closing minutes when the filmmakers present a “What You Can Do” graphic that contains one key element: eat domestic seafood. That’s certainly a recommendation we can get behind.

After Another Hard-Won Delay, No Fracking in New York This Year

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!It’s official: after years of edging steadily towards the decision to open up New York State to the danger and environmental degradation of fracking, Governor Cuomo has finally opened his eyes and ears to the groundswell of opposition to the controversial gas drilling method and put the breaks on the approval process. We’re pleased and encouraged by the fact that there will be no progress toward fracking in New York in 2012.

As we noted in October, intense pressure from the grassroots anti-fracking movement forced Gov. Cuomo to conduct a new health review of his proposed fracking regulations. Cuomo appointed three health professionals to conduct the review, but offered little detail in the way of exactly what their mandate would amount to. More questions were created than answered with the governor’s new twist to the review process. Meanwhile, a procedural deadline of November 29, 2012 still seemed to loom for his administration to approve final fracking regulations or be forced into some re-initiation of the review and regulation process.

Finally, last week, Gov. Cuomo confirmed that his administration would not meet that Nov. 29 deadline, assuring that nothing will be decided on the issue this year. While it seemed just a few months ago that Governor Cuomo was ready to carve a vast fracking sacrifice zone throughout the state’s Southern Tier, the immense pressure placed upon him by a broad coalition of thousands of concerned residents, activists and organizations has forced a rightful second-guessing of fracking by the governor. All of which buys our growing movement more time to energize, strategize, mobilize and activate anew against the still-looming threat that continues to cloud New York’s future.

Additionally, the fight for truth and transparency around fracking in New York enjoyed another victory this month, as a university research institute that had been closely tied to the oil and gas industry was shut down by the school’s president recently. In an era when it has become commonplace for corporate interests to coopt supposedly legitimate academic research institutions with funding, influence and biased engagement, to see such an entity rightly shut down is a win not just for concerned New Yorkers but for science and academics at large.

When the New York State University at Buffalo’s Shale Gas Resources and Society Institute opened last year, it was widely suspected that the institute was receiving financial support from the oil and gas industry. Last May, it released a study that was loaded with misinformation and drew the obviously false conclusion that fracking was a safe procedure that would have no negative effects on surrounding communities. After much criticism and controversy, the fact that the institute has been permanently shuttered should be affirmed and celebrated.

As the eyes of the nation remain on New York State and the prolonged fight to protect countless communities from the ravages of fracking, we can look forward to building our movement and our momentum in 2013. Help keep the pressure on Governor Cuomo by signing our petition and letting him know you won’t tolerate fracking in New York State this year, next year or ever.

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November 26th, 2012

How Consolidated Agribusiness Harms The Organic Sector

By Wenonah Hauter

Click here to read about how consolidated agribusiness harms organics and other sectors of the food industry.

The pioneers of organic agriculture probably did not foresee the day when consumers could buy organic junk food at the supermarket. But now organic is a $31 billion a year big business and the biggest food companies are eagerly moving to capture the profitable and high-priced organic food label. Although many consumers and farmers moved to organic to avoid corporate-controlled and unsustainable industrial food production, the Big Food monopoly is catching up.
 
In the past decade, the organic food sector has consolidated rapidly, and it now closely resembles the conventional food industry. Major food companies have snapped up organic brands and launched their own organic versions of popular foods. Between 1997 and 2007, a third of the 30 largest food-processing companies purchased organic brands, and half introduced organic versions of their conventional food brands.
 
These conglomerates are also diluting the definition of organic and selling meaningless “natural” substitutes for organic foods. Giant food manufacturers and agribusinesses with valuable organic lines (like General Mills, Campbell’s Soup and Driscoll Strawberry Associates) have had company representatives on the USDA advisory board that establishes the standards for organic farming and food manufacturing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of non-organic substances approved for organic food has tripled over the past decade.
 
But some companies can just sidestep the tedious process of weakening organic standards by capitalizing on consumer enthusiasm for organic without living up to them. Typically, that effort involves substituting a self-defined “natural” brand for the more tightly regulated “organic” counterpart. Dean Foods and its WhiteWave-brand Silk Soymilk provide an example of how costly such actions can be to the organic sector.
 
WhiteWave was founded in the 1970s driven by a vision that soy foods could help solve world hunger, but it grew into a major player. And soymilk became one of the only grocery products where organic was the norm, not a niche. Organic soymilk was the third largest segment of organic food sales in 2007, behind only dairy and fresh produce. In 2002, the nation’s largest dairy processor Dean Foods bought WhiteWave for $193 million.
 
In 2009, Dean Foods began to blur the integrity of organic soymilk. It began offering soymilk made with non-genetically engineered soybeans, which allowed Dean to shift from expensive organic to cheaper non-GE soybeans. Although Dean changed its ingredient list and removed the word organic from the label, most consumers and retailers still assumed Silk was organic.
 
This insidious transition from organic to “natural” had huge implications for consumers, farmers and the environment because of Dean’s market dominance. Dean was the biggest seller of organic soymilk and a huge buyer of organic soybeans. By 2004, Silk sold three-quarters of all soymilk in the United States and it was organic. Dean’s 2009 “natural” soymilk shell game helped reduce organic soymilk consumption by almost 50 million gallons the first year.  
 
Since it takes a pound and a half of soybeans to make every gallon of soymilk, the steep drop in organic soymilk reduced the market for organic food-grade soybeans by 1.2 million bushels. In their place, Dean used conventional, non-biotech soybeans for the “natural” soymilk, which were about $7.25 cheaper per bushel than organic soybeans in 2009. This meant that Dean saved — and organic farmers lost — about $9 million.
 
When the soymilk demand for food-grade organic soybeans evaporated, it amounted to a 32,400-acre drop in organic production between 2008 and 2009. Those acres could have reverted to non-organic soybeans. Even non-genetically engineered soybeans can and probably do use pesticides and herbicides if they are sold as non-organic. Although Dean promised consumers that it tested non-genetically engineered soybeans for agrochemical residues and even suggested that the soybean pod “naturally shields” it from pesticides, the reality is that agrochemical applications likely increased significantly.
 
The Silk Soymilk saga offers a cautionary tale of consolidated agribusiness power over the organic sector. Dean has described its specialty, organic and soybean-based beverages as “a $2 billion brand powerhouse.” In the case of soymilk, that power was used to undermine organic farmers, the environment and consumers.
 
For more information, read the new Food & Water Watch report, The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies.
 
Wenonah Hauter is Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. This post originally appeared at Civil Eats.

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November 21st, 2012

Cobbler and Gobbler Spared the Fate of Privatized Meat Inspection

By Tony Corbo 

The White House turkey pardoning ceremony, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As the White House pardons two lucky turkeys today—Gobbler and Cobbler—I’m reminded of the fact that some months ago, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the Virginia Cargill plant that the birds likely would have been processed (if not for the pardon). The results are in, and they aren’t pretty. The Cargill plant in Rockingham County, Virginia (where Cobbler and Gobbler are from) was cited for fecal contamination multiple times (see pages 1-4 of this PDF). 

It’s no wonder. The plant is part of a pilot project for HIMP, the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project. It’s a USDA pilot project that allows workers in poultry plants to self-inspect, essentially privatizing food safety inspections. Line speeds in HIMP turkey slaughter plants are 72% faster than in plants that receive normal USDA inspection. USDA has proposed to expand the HIMP inspection model to all poultry plants.

As you sit down for Thanksgiving tomorrow, you might give thanks for the fact that there are two less turkeys from HIMP project plants on America’s tables.

Take action today—tell USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to reject privatized meat inspections.

Giving Thanks for a Growing Movement

By Wenonah Hauter

As I prepare to share thanksgiving with my family this year, I’ve been thinking about the many things I am truly thankful for. Our activists and supporters are top on my list. They believe, like I do, that we must fight for the kind of world we want and not just settle for the best that we can get, and they are on the frontlines of this fight along with us.

When I started Food & Water Watch just seven years ago, I knew that we would face many challenges, and I could only hope that our then-tiny organization would be able to tackle them. Now, seven years later, while the challenges are still great, I am confident that thanks to our nearly 80 staff around the world and half a million dedicated supporters, we can truly stand up and fight back to protect our essential resources.

From shutting down Walmart’s support lines asking them not to carry genetically engineered sweet corn to helping Longmont, Colorado become the first city in the state to ban fracking, our supporters have shown both politicians and corporations that together we are strong and committed to fighting for what’s right.

Here are just some of the things our supporters did this year:

  • They took over 1 million actions online, from asking state legislators for fracking bans to demanding that the FDA investigate pet food-related deaths.
  • They made over 10,000 phone calls to local, state, federal and corporate decision-makers.
  • They hosted over 300 events in communities all across the U.S., from film screenings and activist meetups to rallies and petition deliveries.

The power of our supporters working together has shown us throughout this past year that we can take on the corporate control of our food and water, and together, we can win. It inspires me, enough so that I wrote a book about how we can take back our food system from a handful of large corporations. It’s called Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.  

I’ll am traveling around the country in 2013 to promote Foodopoly. I have often said that I wish I could thank each of you in person. I hope that during this book tour I will have the opportunity to meet many of you. In the meantime, during a season that is predicated on giving thanks, I can think of nothing else that I am more thankful for than the involvement of our supporters with Food & Water Watch, and nothing that I look forward to more than working with all of you in the coming years.

Not yet a Food & Water Watch activist? Click here to join the Food & Water Watch mailing list. To become a member of Food & Water Watch, please click here.

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Antibiotic Use in Livestock Feed: Trust But Verify?

By Sarah Borron

Antibiotic-resistant super bugs pose one of the most threatening public health problems.

Take action today to ensure accountability and transparency in the use of antibiotics on farm animals.

The misuse of antibiotics in livestock feed, known as “subtherapeutic use,” is an ongoing problem in U.S. agriculture and a threat to public health. The practice of feeding large groups of livestock antibiotics whether or not they are sick contributes to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, threatening people with diseases that are harder to treat.

The FDA, the government agency responsible for tackling this problem, has touted its voluntary initiatives to encourage the industry to change its practices. But Food & Water Watch has spoken out against subtherapeutic use of antibiotics and supports a legislative ban on the practice. We don’t think a voluntary ban is enough, and, thanks to internal FDA documents obtained from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), we discover that FDA isn’t so sure the plan will work either.

PEER requested documentation from the FDA on industry’s support for the voluntary guidance on antibiotic use in livestock. Instead, PEER received internal memos revealing that FDA staff acknowledged serious concerns: 

Click here to see our infographic about how antibiotic use on farms makes us sick.

  • A weakness of the voluntary strategy is its reliance on industry cooperation and lack of deadlines in the guidance. Some emails show that FDA staff are not confident the industry will comply.
  • Regulations might be necessary to reduce antibiotic use in livestock feed in a timely fashion.
  • The FDA doesn’t even collect enough data to evaluate the effectiveness of the voluntary strategy.
  • The FDA tweaked language in the voluntary guidance to improve the agency’s chances of winning an appeal on a lawsuit that would force it to regulate subtherapeutic antibiotic use. The lawsuit states clearly that voluntary strategies are unacceptable.

We’re left scratching our heads. The threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is real and pressing. The voluntary strategy may or may not work. After decades of delay, why dilly-dally with a voluntary strategy instead of writing and enforcing regulations to do the job effectively?

As we press Congress and the FDA on the larger issue of subtherapeutic antibiotic use, there’s one action you can take today to improve the situation. The FDA is requesting feedback on how to improve its data collection on antibiotics used in livestock feed. No matter what, we need that data to see if the situation is getting better or worse. Take a moment today to ensure accountability and transparency as we work to change this issue.

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November 20th, 2012

LNG Exports Reveal Industry’s True Motive: Profits

By Hugh MacMillan

Ban Fracking!

Click here to take action to stop the export of fracked gas.

A new report by Food & Water Watch reveals the many flaws in the oil and gas industry’s claims about fracking and U.S. energy security. But nothing is more revealing about the industry’s deceptive energy security rhetoric than its push to export liquefied natural gas overseas. Alongside the industry’s patriotic rhetoric, this push to export LNG is the height of hypocrisy.

As drilling and fracking for shale gas boomed, natural gas was overproduced. By April 2012 the “wellhead price” for natural gas had fallen from over $10 per thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to under $2. In 2010, ExxonMobil bought into the shale gas boom, becoming the largest producer of natural gas in the country with its purchase of XTO Energy, but by June 2012 CEO Rex Tillerson stated that because of low natural gas prices, “We are all losing our shirts today…. We’re making no money [on natural gas]. It’s all in the red.” Natural gas prices were far below those needed for the industry to break even, given the cost of drilling and fracking new shale gas wells.

In exporting natural gas, the industry sees a way out of this bind. As opposed to oil, the supply chain for natural gas is not yet globalized, and natural gas prices in Asia and Europe have remained high. This gives the oil and gas industry an opportunity not just to profit from exporting natural gas, but to avoid falling off of its drilling and fracking “treadmill” – that is, because shale gas production declines so steeply, and because the highest producing wells are the first to get drilled and fracked, the industry must keep increasing the rate of drilling and fracking just to maintain a constant level of shale gas production.

So, to stay on this treadmill, and to keep the shale gas bubble from bursting, the oil and gas industry is beating down the door of the Department of Energy, urging the agency to authorize a flood of liquefied natural gas exports. The 19 LNG export proposals, and counting, could amount to sending the equivalent of over 42 percent of current annual natural gas consumption out of the country each year. That is a lot of natural gas, and a lot of it would be shale gas from fracking.

Representative Ed Markey has introduced two bills in the U.S. House that could foil the industry’s plan. The first bill, H.R. 4024, would keep the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from approving any new LNG export facilities until at least 2025. The second bill, H.R. 4025, would ensure that natural gas extracted from U.S. public lands is not exported, and further that no new pipelines on public lands would transport natural gas for export.

These two incisive bills are important to the larger fight to rein in an industry that, if allowed to write its own policies, will simply extract as much fossil fuel as possible, as fast as possible, for maximum profit, regardless of the long-term costs to local communities or the health of the planet. Without exporting natural gas to create more demand and get prices high enough to justify drilling and fracking, the oil and gas industry may decide it makes more financial sense to leave the natural gas deep underground. That is precisely where experts warn us fossil fuels need to stay if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Take action today to stop the export of fracked gas.

 

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November 16th, 2012

Hacking Meat: Breaking Down Policy

Hacking Meat is an online conversation exploring the ways that data, technology and new communication methodologies can be used to create a more sustainable, profitable and healthy future of meat. Join the conversation and help change the future of meat in the comments, on Twitter (hashtag#hackmeat), on Facebook or at the Hack//Meat hackathon happening December 7-9. Learn more about the hackathon here.

Hacking Meat: Breaking Down Policy

By Patty Lovera

I’m probably the last person in the world who should talk about technology. (As opposed to the “early adopter,” I’m more of a very late, extremely reluctant adopter.) But I’m much more equipped to talk about information and how we can use it to re-imagine the future of meat.

I work for a group called Food & Water Watch and we have lots of ideas about what’s wrong with the meat system. It’s exciting to see lots of folks figuring out better ways to produce and market meat. But at the end of the day, we’re convinced that we can’t shop our way out of this problem – we need to change the bad policy that has gotten us here. A first step is helping people understand the problem. And then we need them to get involved to help solve it.

One of the first things we want to help consumers understand is that the meat they buy at the grocery store probably didn’t come from a farm that looks anything like the picture on the package. The meat case gives the impression of a wealth of options, but the sad truth is the industry giants who dominate the meat marketplace dictate the type of meat we buy and which producers supply it. Read the full article…

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November 13th, 2012

Rude Awakening in America’s Farmland

By Scott Edwards

The Crutchfields

I’m an environmentalist. So when I think about our industrialized system of agriculture and the proliferation of mega-factory farms across the country, where giant companies like Perdue, Tyson, Smithfield and a handful of others dominate our increasingly fragile landscapes, my first thoughts go to the impacts on watersheds and airways. I tend to dwell on the unsustainability of hundreds of thousands of tons of chicken manure piled high in places like the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where the Chesapeake Bay is dying, or the millions of gallons of fetid hog waste lying in lagoons all across the eastern part of North Carolina, overflowing into the Neuse River every time it rains. But the other night I was told a story about an equally dark side of our industrialized ag system, one where the ruin of our natural resources is matched every bit by the destruction of rural families and futures, where every day struggling farmers suffer rude awakenings from the American dream.

Back in 1987, Karen and Mitchell Crutchfield were living a quiet life in a 3 bedroom brick home near where the Arkansas River winds through the state of Arkansas. Their home was situated on 17 acres of farmland that was passed down to Karen by her grandfather. Mitchell had spent 16 years working as a towboat engineer on the Mississippi River.

Back then, the Crutchfields decided to take a shot with a business of their own. They weren’t looking for shortcuts to get rich quick, or ways to profit off the hard work of others. Karen and Mitchell weren’t hoping for fancy cars and big McMansions; theirs was a modest dream. They were going to be chicken farmers, knowing that it meant that they would have to struggle every day to pay their bills, but they could look forward to a simple and peaceful retirement some decades down the road.      

The Crutchfields entered into a contract to raise chickens for Tyson Foods, an Arkansas chicken empire that is one of the largest industrial food producers in the world today, with profits in 2010 of $780 million. In the beginning, they mortgaged their debt-free home and land and took out big loans from the Farm Credit to build their first chicken houses. The Crutchfields were loyal to Tyson. They even purchased 3000 shares of the company’s stock so they could enjoy some small benefit from the massive profits that Tyson earns off the hard work of their contract growers. And for two and a half decades Karen and Mitchell Crutchfield played by all the rules.

Every time Tyson told them to upgrade the chicken houses or install new equipment or add structures, the Crutchfields complied, even though it meant taking out more loans just to keep up. And at the end of each flock, when Tyson came to pick up the birds that the Crutchfields had so carefully raised according to the company’s evolving standards, they only received about half the money they earned. The other half? Tyson sent that directly to the Farm Credit to pay off the rolling debt the Crutchfields had incurred to keep up with Tyson’s demands. 

The money left over wasn’t enough to get by on. So the Crutchfields did what almost every poultry contract grower in the country does – they took on other jobs to make ends meet.  At some points, Karen was working 3 jobs while Mitchell cared for Tyson’s birds. And even though it wasn’t fair that Tyson was paying the Crutchfields less than 5 cents per pound of chicken raised in their houses while charging $1.25 or more per pound at the grocery store, and despite the fact that the Crutchfields had to sell off all their 3000 shares of Tyson stocks over the years to survive, it was all okay because they were working towards the dream they started 25 years ago, when one day the Farm Credit loans would all be paid off and once again they’d be debt-free.

The Crutchfields were going to reach their goal three short years from now, when they would be in their mid 60’s. They were going to put off retirement until well past the age of 65 so they could spend their golden years with some small margin of comfort. But a year ago, their dream came crashing down. Not only did the Crutchfields get the rug pulled out from under them, they’re about to have their entire home and all their land yanked away.

Last year Tyson demanded yet another upgrade to the Crutchfields’ chicken houses. This time it was to install computerized ventilation equipment under Tyson’s “Premium House Mandate” program. The cost? According to the Crutchfields, somewhere around $250-300 thousand. Tyson told the Crutchfields that in exchange for the quarter of a million dollar upgrade, they would receive a raise of a penny per pound of chicken. A penny per pound for another $300,000 in debt – that’s a “raise” none of us could afford to accept.

Even so, in a desperate effort to hold onto at least a fragment of their dream while not putting themselves into a hole out of which they’d likely never be able to climb, the Crutchfields asked the Farm Credit for another loan to update only half of their six poultry houses. The Farm Credit refused, saying it was all or nothing. Daunted by the prospects of suddenly sinking another $300,000 deeper, the Crutches did what any responsible person would have done – they said no to more debt.

Last March, Tyson refused to renew the Crutchfields’ contract, abandoning them just a few years short of their finally being able to pay off their debts and after 25 years of loyal service. Tyson’s betrayal left them without any steady source of income to pay off the last three years of their Farm Credit loans. It seems that someone at Tyson didn’t read the  “core values” listed on the company’s website, where they claim to “strive to be honorable” and “care about each other,” before they kicked the Crutchfields to the curb. And the curb is exactly where this farm family will end up because the Farm Credit is now foreclosing on their property. The foreclosure hearing is taking place in early December of this year, in time for the banks to take the Crutchfields’ home and land just as the Arkansas winter sets in. 

Sadly, this tale should be the exception, but its not; it happens to small farmers on a regular basis all across the country, where big agribusinesses force their contract growers into massive debt while the companies reap huge profits. If you want to see who is destroying sustainable family farming in America, you don’t have to look any further than Tyson and Perdue and the other major meat producers. When you’re a poultry contract grower, there’s never any catching up. The dream you had when you started out stays just that – an elusive dream. The best that you can hope for is that it doesn’t turn into a horrible nightmare, as it has for the Crutchfields. 

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