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Proposed USDA rule change would affect NC poultry farmers

An aerial view of an industrial poultry farm with piles of litter next to it in eastern North Carolina.
Courtesy of Cape Fear River Watch
An aerial view of an industrial poultry farm with piles of litter next to it in eastern North Carolina.

A lot has changed in the poultry business since the Packers and Stockyard Act became law in 1921. A handful of companies like Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms control the industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that means farmers have little say in contracts with these large processors.

USDA has proposed a rule changeto the law that would require those companies to offer more information on contracts before farmers sign them. The disclosures include everything from the minimum number of chickens needed to turn a profit to data on other farmers.

A bipartisan group of state attorneys-general, including North Carolina's Josh Stein, support the proposal.

“North Carolina’s poultry farmers have a right to a fair market and fair prices,” Stein said in a statement.“I support the USDA’s efforts to make the poultry industry more transparent and protect our farmers and their livelihoods.”

Some poultry companies are opposed. According to Reuters, Mountaire Farms sent a letter to its farmers saying the rule would lead to higher prices and more foreign processors entering the U.S. market.

The proposed rule change comes as the Justice Department is suing Cargill, Sanderson Farms, and Wayne Farms over unfair labor practices at processing plants. Those companies employ thousands of people in North Carolina.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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