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Video mildly NSFW (language)
Updated to include responses from Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods.
John Oliver doesn’t have a lot of good to say about the House Appropriations Committee.
“Every one of these 51 people is a potential chicken [bleep]-er,” Oliver says in his Sunday night installment of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” While Oliver is cussing a blue streak, the video shows photos of committee members.
The harangue comes at the end of an 18-minute satirical segment on the commercial chicken industry.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Oliver says at the top of the segment. “You’re thinking this is just going to be another story about how horribly chickens are treated. I know. We do hear about that a lot.”
Instead, Oliver puts the spotlight on how chicken growers get treated. And it’s not a pretty sight, he says, despite the industry’s promotional videos that feature successful chicken growers and “jangly guitar music.”
“Multiple studies have shown that the people who grow chickens live at or near the poverty line, which sounds insane. How can the people who make the meat we eat the most barely be making a living?”
Most chicken (97% of broilers, according to a USDA report) is raised using a contract system that puts the risks and expenses on growers while the chicken corporations get the profits, Oliver said.
Chicken growers “own everything that costs money, and [corporations] own everything that makes money,” he said.
So, how do you get from allegations that chicken-growing contracts are sucker deals to saying all members the House Appropriations Committee are potential … well … expletive deleted?
Last year the Appropriations Committee blocked a law that would have given chicken growers more protection for speaking up about their business conditions. The growers say corporations retaliate against them if they say anything bad about their contracts. The protective measure, sponsored by Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur, would have helped protect growers’ free speech rights, the representative said.
The measure failed. But it could come back for a vote in the committee next month.
Oliver says voters should keep an eye on their members of Congress to see how they vote on the proposal if it comes up in June. (Here’s the list of committee members.)
Oliver said taking action this way is far more realistic than idealistic actions like giving up chicken.
American’s aren’t going to do that, he said. Chicken is just too popular.
“It tastes a bit like armadillo,” he said.
Update: Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, two of the nation’s largest chicken producers, said Oliver’s broadcast did not reflect the corporations’ dealings with contract growers.
“Despite what John Oliver would have his viewers believe, we value our relationships with the farmers who grow chickens for our company,” wrote Worth Sparkman in an email to the Daily Yonder. “We want those farmers to do well because their success directly affects ours.”
Perdue Farms’ statement to the Yonder was similar.
“Obviously we don’t think the program gave an accurate portrayal of the relationship between the poultry companies and the vast majority of farmers who choose to raise chickens under contract,” wrote Perdue spokesman Julie DeYoung. “Perdue has been contracting with farmers since the 1950s, and we currently have contracts with more than 2,200 farm partners, many of whom have been with our company across multiple generations.”
Tim Marema is editor of the Daily Yonder.