Groups Say Perdue Hiding Behind Farmers as Court Case Begins
Baltimore—Several organizations held a press conference outside of the Federal District Court in Baltimore this morning to call attention to Perdue’s unjust treatment of its farmers and the public health and environmental effects of factory farm runoff, as highlighted by a case that goes to trial today. The case brought by Waterkeeper Alliance against Perdue and one of its contract growers, the Hudsons, seeks to put a stop to the pollution found pouring off the farm and hold Perdue liable for the discharges. Throughout the nearly three years of litigation, activists said Perdue has been using the Hudsons as “human shields,” hiding behind its farmers instead of taking responsibility for the waste that its factory farming operations produce.
“When this case was filed in 2010 Perdue was enjoying $4.6 billion in sales while Alan Hudson was driving a school bus to make ends meet,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “If Perdue really cared about farmers like the Hudsons, they’ve had the opportunity for almost three years now to stand up and say ‘this is our waste and our problem’. Instead, they’ve chosen to once more hide behind the false guise of the family farmer and hold the Hudsons out as the only ones responsible for the mess created by Perdue’s own industrial chicken empire. Perdue owns the chickens, the feed, and the profits. The Hudsons, apparently, own Perdue’s waste—and Perdue is fighting hard to keep it that way.”
Responsibility for the waste from the highly integrated meat production systems that now dominate our chicken, beef and pork industry remains a central question as this case goes to trial. A single Perdue farm generates hundreds of tons of animal manure a year, far beyond what can ever be properly and responsibly used by contract growers like the Hudsons to fertilize crops. As a result of all this excess waste, the Bay and other waterways around the country are being impacted by damaging amounts of nutrients and other pollutants.
“Perdue’s abuse of contract farmers goes beyond their refusal to take responsibility for their own waste,” says Hauter. “It goes to unconscionable contracts, economic inequity, inappropriate uses of drugs and horrendous working conditions. Perdue and the other mega-meat companies are the biggest threat to family farming in the United States and around the world.”
Kathy Ozer, Director of the National Family Farm Coalition, stated, “This case highlights the power of a company such as Perdue and the vulnerability of growers. We have spent many years working to shift that relationship and it is exactly why this case is so important. There is no reason why Perdue, which exerts total control over the day to day operations, the chicks and the feed, is not responsible for the environmental costs.”
“Pollution from industrial poultry operations can harm human health, in addition to causing environmental problems,” said Jillian P. Fry, Project Director for
Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture at the Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This method of food production produces massive amounts of concentrated waste and relies on routine use of antibiotics and other drugs, resulting in contamination of air, water, soil and the actual birds. This can lead to a range of public health issues for surrounding communities and consumers. The court case beginning today has the potential to increase corporate and producer responsibility for these issues, which could lead to positive changes in poultry production and reduce associated public health effects.”
“Chicken manure is one of the largest pollution sources in the Chesapeake, contributing to the dead zones we see every summer in up to one third of the Bay,” said Megan Cronin, Clean Water Advocate with Environment Maryland. “We are never going to have a clean Bay if we don’t take agriculture pollution seriously and if we don’t hold corporate agribusiness accountable. This is a local treasure that we all share, we can’t let the mess of the few lead to a loss for so many. ”
Food & Water Watch revealed last year that the site SaveFarmFamilies.org, a site that suggests the suit was brought by overzealous, out-of-state environmentalists was registered by Perdue Inc. Earlier this year, Food & Water Watch released secret emails between Governor Martin O’Malley and Perdue’s General Counsel, Herb Frerichs, which showed an unusually close relationship. The day that Governor O’Malley released a letter to the Maryland Law Clinic denouncing the merits of the ongoing litigation, he received an email from Frerichs that simply said, “Very nice.” Subsequently, the Baltimore Sun reported that around the time these emails began, Perdue began shifting its political giving from the Republican Governor’s Association to the Democratic Governor’s Association—which O’Malley heads.
“Perdue has tried to fool the public into thinking that the environmentalists are the villains here,” said Hauter. “But astroturfing won’t change the fact that they will continue to pollute the bay while letting their contract farmers take all the blame. Meanwhile, Governor O’Malley continues to prop up the poultry industry despite the fact that all Maryland agriculture combined contributes only 0.35% to the state’s Gross Domestic Product, with chicken contributing only a fraction of that number. We don’t need cozy relationships—we need real gutsy leadership to force polluting operations to stop killing the bay.”
Contact: Rich Bindell, Food & Water Watch, 202-683-2457; rbindell(at)fwwatch(dot)org