Battle continues to rage between chicken farmer and employer Perdue

Craig Watts poultry farmer driving tractor
Screen capture YouTube

Craig Watts has taken yet another step against Perdue's incessant 'retaliatory inspections' by submitting a formal complaint to the Department of Labor. Perdue isn't impressed.

Three months ago, a chicken farmer named Craig Watts made headlines by speaking out against the animal rights atrocities enabled by his employer, Perdue. After decades of raising broiler flocks for Perdue, Watts ran out of patience with the giant poultry company’s lack of attention to animal welfare. So he took matters into his own hands, inviting a film crew to visit his farm and see what conditions are really like. (You can watch the video here.)

Perdue retaliated, claiming that Watts’ farm was a poor example of typical poultry conditions. Watts, however, pointed out that Perdue has never had issues with his farm in all the years he’s worked for them, and believes his farm is one of the best and most humane (if such a word can be used) examples of poultry factory farming out there.

Since last December, when the YouTube video featuring Watts and his farm was first released, Perdue has continued to inspect Watts relentlessly. Although the company did not terminate Watts’ poultry contract following his public statements, its representatives showed up 23 times in January and February as part of a “performance improvement plan.”

As a result, Watts decided to take yet another drastic and brave step against Perdue. Supported by a non-profit organization called the Governmental Accountability Project, Watts submitted a formal complaint on February 19 to the U.S. Department of Labor in which he requested that the performance improvement plan be reversed and that there be an end to the “retaliatory increased inspections.”

Mary McKenna reported for Wired: “Watts and his attorneys claim protection under the recent Food Safety Modernization Act, which added whistleblower ‘employee protection’ provisions to the thicket of laws that govern food safety in the United States.”

An excerpt from the complaint’s cover letter:

“Complainant engaged in protected activity when he invited individuals from Compassion in World Farming (“CIWF”) to take and publish footage depicting the poor conditions under which chickens are raised for Respondent. Complainant believed that these conditions were the result of practices and conduct by Respondent that increased the chickens’ risk of contamination or infection with salmonella, e-coli, and other bacteria, thereby rendering them a threat to consumers who purchase and eat them…

"The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in fact prohibits the delivery or receipt in interstate commerce of “food” that is “adulterated.” Under the Act, food is considered to be adulterated if it is ‘held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health’.”

Perdue responded by saying that Watts needs guidance to help him do a better job at raising chickens. They called his whistleblowing a publicity ploy, as “this video does not accurately reflect nor represent our standards for raising poultry” (excerpted from a letter written by Julie DeYoung, Perdue spokesperson, to McKenna).

Watts has been bombarded with criticism by the National Chicken Council, as well as by a panel of animal scientists who produced a 5-page analysis of the original video. The panel, like Perdue, concluded that Watts’ method of farming was inadequate. But, as McKenna argues, these comments simply draw attention to the fundamental divergence in opinions between certain farmers, such as Watts, and the industry. One judges based on performance, the other on belief.

“The scientists’ commentary says that Watts is not performing to the standards of the system. I suspect that Watts would say that the standards no longer accord with his own definitions of husbandry and welfare.”

There is no denying that meat produced by the factory farming system is the cheapest it’s ever been in history, and there’s a reason for that. Whether or not individual consumers want to support such a system is another question altogether, regardless of what happens in the fight between Watts and Perdue.

Tags: Agriculture | Animals | Animal Welfare | Factory Farming | Farming

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