UPDATE: North Carolina farmer Craig Watts heard from the Perdue, the gigantic chicken processor for whom he grows his birds under contract, just hours after the below video early Thursday morning release, reports the veteran agribusiness journalist Chris Leonard. And Perdue isn’t pleased—on Thursday, “Perdue employees arrived at Watts’ farm and informed him that he was the subject on an internal animal welfare audit,” Leonard writes. “If he [Watts] fails the audit, the company could cancel his contract and effectively put him out of business.” The company confirmed the move, pointing the finger at Watts for the rough conditions of the birds in the video, Leonard reports. He adds: “Farmers like Watts have little freedom in choosing how to raise their chickens, and they have no control over the kind of bird that is delivered to their farm.” His whole piece is worth reading.
The US meat industry maintains a strict code of secrecy over what goes on within the vast facilities where animals are fattened for slaughter, as Ted Genoways showed in a Mother Jones feature last year (which he expanded into an excellent full-length book). So the glimpses we get of these fecal-laden dungeons tend to be in the form of grainy videos, shot by undercover animal-welfare activists posing as workers—for example, the very recent, and quite gruesome, footage from inside a Seaboard Farms hog facility that supplies Walmart, captured by Mercy For Animals.
The above video is a different breed. In this one, Leah Garces, US director of Compassion in World Farming, got North Carolina farmer Craig Watts, who raises chickens on contract for poultry giant Perdue, to allow her to walk around freely, with a film crew, while he describes the scene. There’s nothing shadowy about it—just a farmer talking openly about the conditions under which he’s required by contract to raise chickens, over clear footage. Watts is clearly a dissident cog in the Big Ag machine. Most contract farmers walk the omertà line, for fear that the big meat packers they rely on will cut them off, leaving them holding massive debt they can’t pay—a story Chris Leonard laid out in great detail in the recent book The Meat Racket. Watts, though, is speaking freely. He was a major source in a recent Reuters exposé of antibiotic use on poultry farms. It will be interesting to see how Big Meat handles this rare blast of sunshine.