New Book Misses its Mark, Does Nothing to Educate Consumers on Realities of Modern Poultry Production

February 18, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. —A new book released recently discussing the U.S. poultry industry does little to help consumers understand how food is made and ignores entire facts regarding the tremendous progress America’s family farmers and chicken companies have made by working together to produce safe and affordable food.

Christopher Leonard’s “The Meat Racket,” presents a completely one-sided view of U.S. poultry production.  Contrary to the picture he tries to paint with a few anecdotes in an effort to sell books, the facts tell a different story: American poultry production is a global model of progress and efficiency.

“We understand that many people have questions about the modernization of agriculture and food production,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown. “And we welcome those questions, as well as thoughts on how best to feed the world while ensuring our food is safe, accessible and affordable.

“But that’s not what this book is,” said Brown. “It offers no solutions, no constructive criticism. It is just another hit piece.

“If Mr. Leonard took the time to speak with any significant number of the 25,000 family farmers who are supported in this system—many of whom have had successful and mutually beneficial partnerships with chicken companies for decades—what they thought, he would have gotten a very different story,” Brown said. “In fact, there is a rather lengthy waiting list for those who have heard good things about the chicken business and would like to enter in a similar fashion.  I guess happy and satisfied stories don’t sell books.”

  • To watch a video about the partnership that exists between family farmers and integrated chicken companies, click here.
  • For more information about how the chicken industry is structured and what chicken farmers say in their own words, click here.

According to Brown, the contract-grower model has remained strong for more than half a century because it is mutually beneficial to both farmers and chicken companies.

“Contract chicken farmers, for instance, are insulated from the volatile swings of the commodity markets,” he said.  “Two years ago, when grain prices more than doubled – driving up feed costs – contract farmers still received the same pay rate, with chicken companies absorbing billions of dollars in losses.  During that same period, many independent cattle and hog producers were forced to sell off animals early or drastically reduce production.”

Mr. Leonard, a well-known critic of modern agriculture, does hundreds of thousands of men and women a serious disservice by detracting from the important work they do in feeding American families.  At no point in the 351 pages of his book does he take time to shed light on the benefits that our farm communities see every day as a direct result of the modernization of the U.S. chicken industry:

  • Farmers no longer bear the financial risks of fluctuating feed, medication, baby chick and live broiler prices.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, incentives in grower contracts resulted in a 16 percent increase in pounds produced per square foot of barn—a key factor in grower income.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, improved production per square foot and higher payment rates per pound produced resulted in a 65 percent increase in grower income per square foot of the farmer’s house.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, incentives built into farmers’ contracts and research by chicken companies has greatly improved the welfare of chickens, significantly reducing bird death loss.
  • Loan default rates of chicken farmers are among the lowest of any segment of agriculture.

Still, as beneficial as it is for the farmers and partner companies, the real winners of this system are consumers.  The integration of the chicken industry has saved consumers well over $1 trillion since 1980 and has resulted in product innovation that has broadened consumer choice.  After adjusting for inflation, chicken today costs less than it did a decade ago.

This system provides a level of traceability and accountability unparalleled by the majority of food production. No matter where they buy their chicken, consumers can rest assured that the eggs came from healthy breeder stock, the feed came from FDA-licensed feed mills, and each product was made under careful inspection by USDA officials.

“From hatchery to farm to processing plant, there is an unbroken chain of quality and food safety, as a result of vertical integration, that has led to the most technologically advanced, safest poultry production system in the world.” Brown added. “All while improving the welfare of our birds and reducing our environmental footprint threefold over the past several decades.”

To learn more about the myths in The Meat Racket, click here.

To learn more about what it means to have a vertically integrated system, click here.

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