New Proposed Federal Regulations Threaten Chicken Industry

A proposed set of regulations announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration could cause serious negative consequences for the nearly 1,600 farm families on the Delmarva Peninsula that grow chickens under contract with the five local chicken companies. It could destroy a system that has been in place for more than fifty years that has benefited local farmers, the local community, and consumers.

Through voluntary arrangements, farm families growing chickens choose whether to be in business and decide which company they wish to work with. They are not forced to grow chickens against their will. These contracts provide incentives for chicken growers to do a better job and be rewarded for their hard work and success.

Unlike a similar proposed rule in 2010, the 2016 proposed USDA regulations automatically do not eliminate these incentives and create a system in which every grower is paid the same, regardless of performance or the amount of work involved. They do, however, propose to give the Secretary of Agriculture considerable power to inject the federal government into voluntary business arrangements between growers and chicken companies.

Bird welfare likely will suffer if there are disincentives for growers doing a good job.  Growers doing the minimal amount of work could be paid the same as harder working growers who are more involved in caring for their birds. If bird care is reduced, then bird welfare will be reduced and the animals will suffer.

The Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. Grower Committee, consisting of growers from throughout Delmarva and growing with each Delmarva chicken company, sent a letter to the USDA in November 2010 to oppose that year's proposed rule. That position has not been rescinded.

As the Maryland General Assembly considered similar restrictions on a state level early this year, hundreds of Maryland chicken farmers added their names to petitions in opposition to more unnecessary government interference into their businesses and families' lives.

In short, this new USDA regulation will not be beneficial to farm families, chicken companies, our local communities, and the birds themselves.

The two proposed rules and the one interim final rule will have a 60 day public comment period that will end after Donald Trump is President and there is a new Secretary of Agriculture. We hope a more common-sense approach will be taken. In fact, the Republican Party platform on which President-elect Trump ran clearly states that, "We oppose the policies pushed by special interest groups seeking to stop or make more expensive our current system of safe, efficient, and humane production of meat. Congress has repeatedly had to block the current Administration's draconian rules concerning the marketing of poultry and livestock. This regulatory impulse must be curbed, not on a case-by-case basis, but through a fundamental restructuring of the regulatory process."

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