Typical chicken farms only require about one square foot of space per hen in order for her to lay eggs comfortably. But large corporate farms like Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Sanderson Farms require huge facilities to keep up with their demand.
But all of these companies are currently in hot water — not for their animal welfare practices, as typically reported. Often chicken farms come under fire for inadequate living conditions for the animals. like hens being allowed less than one square foot to lay her eggs. This time the companies are being accused of collusion and price fixing.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has recently subpoenaed Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods. The meat producer has cooperated with the investigation thus far and believes that the subpoena is related to allegations that arose in September during a class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit against Tyson Foods and other poultry producers claimed that the companies had conspired to “fix, raise, maintain and stabilize” the price of broiler chickens and had been doing so since at least 2008.
Costing U.S. consumers more than $90 billion every year, chicken is the largest meat protein consumed nationally. By limiting their meat production, the companies would easily be able to attribute their price hikes to low supply despite high demand and despite the number of chickens that these farms provide.
Tom Hayes, a Tyson executive, declined to share details regarding the subpoena after reporting unexpectedly hight quarterly sales. He said that Tyson had not changed its pricing practices. However, a separate lawsuit filed by a Tyson shareholder said that the company had not properly disclosed their filings, further alluding to the possibility of collusion that had risen in the previous suit.
Former chicken farmers in five states were the ones to bring the corporate practices to light. The farmers claim to be treated like “indentured servants.” Quoting “The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business,” by Christopher Leonard, the lawsuit says that these chicken farmers are being treated like “modern-day sharecroppers on the ragged edge of bankruptcy.”
According to the lawsuit, the farmers’ incomes range between $12,000 and $40,000 annually while working 12 to 16-hour days. However, the corporate giants that these farmers are suing make well into the billions of dollars in profits every year.
The USDA addressed a few of the lawsuit’s concerns during the Obama administration, but the Trump administration has delayed the implementation of new regulations until the spring, allowing more time for farmers to draft defenses for themselves.