Farmers working under contract to raise poultry have been saying for the long time that the agreements they signed with the large processors leave them little room for profit. That’s really a nice way to put it. Many farmers claim the contracts are deceptive and ruinous to farmers. It appears a jury in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, agrees. The jury returned a $7.3 million verdict against Tyson Foods, finding that the company had defrauded a group of ten chicken growers.
The trial lasted three weeks and Tyson claims it was decided by a “runaway” jury. The company, of course, will appeal. More than 50 chicken growers filed suit against Tyson in May 2008, according to the Associated Press. The case was then split into smaller groups. More trials will take place in McCurtain County.
The farmers claimed that “Tyson used its tremendous economic clout to coerce them into growing chickens at less than break-even costs, ‘driving hundreds of families into bankruptcy and foreclosure.’” Tyson would force the farmers to borrow money to build new chicken houses and then use a secretive system to calculate how much each grower earned. The company would not allow the growers to verify either the weight of the feed Tyson delivered or the weight of the birds the company collected from the growers.