Congresswoman Chellie Pingree

Representing the 1st District of Maine

Ag spending bill contains big win to protect rights for chicken farmers after viral John Oliver video brought attention to their plight

Jun 18, 2015
Press Release
Pingree helps lead the fight for farmers' rights in Appropriations Committee

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said a spending bill that won initial approval by a House committee today contains a big win for contractchicken farmers who have been punished by big chicken processors like Tyson and Perdue for speaking out.  Contract farmers raise chickens for big companies, but it's actually the companies who own the birds and the farmers only get a small fee for each chicken they raise.
"This is about basic free speech rights for these hard working chicken farmers," Pingree said.  "There are laws in place to protect them but year after year Congress has blocked their enforcement.  Today we passed a bill that, for the first time, lets farmers take advantage of those protections."
Pingee said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of Ohio has been leading the fight to protect contract farmers, and deserves much of the credit for not giving up.
"Congresswoman Kaptur has been absolutely tireless in sticking up for these farmers and she deserves a lot of credit for what happened today," Pingree said.
“Poultry farmers today suffer untold abuses at the hands of the contract poultry industry. These abuses are illegal and unconstitutional, but today’s subcommittee vote shows that our First Amendment can still shine a light on such dark practices. Today's vote brings us a step closer to protecting the rights of farmers to speak, assemble, and petition their government. I urge my colleagues to build on the subcommittee's leadership today in support of these basic rights," Kapture said.
Contract farmers who raise chickens for large-scale processors are frequently punished financially by those companies if they speak out about mistreatment and unfair practices.  In 2008, Congress passed legislation providing protection from retaliation under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) but each year language has been inserted into the Agriculture Appropriations bill blocking enforcement of those protections.
Pingree, a Member of the Appropriations Committee, has spoken out against these provisions and says although this is a big win, the fight isn't over.
"It was significant that the anti-GIPSA language was not in the bill that was passed by the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee today but it still has to go to the full Committee and then the full House," she said.  "There are still plenty of opportunities for that language to get stuck back in and it's important that we keep our eye on the ball."
Last month, TV comedian John Oliver broadcast a segment criticizing the practice of retaliating against chicken farmers and criticizing Congress for blocking them from being protected.  Since then his video has been viewed nearly 3 million times.
"John Oliver took a complicated issue and explained it in terms that everyone could understand.  He added a little humor and a fair amount of outrage and the result was a video that had a big impact on this issue.  He really shined a light on what is happening to these contract farmers and how some members of Congress are preventing them from exercising their basic rights," Pingree said.