New poultry group plans to ruffle some feathers

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I don’t want to upset you, but there’s something wrong with that chicken you’re eating. I don’t mean the way it was prepared (though, seriously, breaded-deep-fried-meat-on-white-bread-with-mayo is just NOT a good idea). I’m talking about the way it was raised and slaughtered, the effect those tasks have on the workers who perform them, the poultry industry’s impact on our environment, and its toll on human health.

The thing is, once you start thinking about common practices of the poultry industry—the largest segment of Georgia agriculture—it’s pretty hard to swallow. That’s why there’s growing interest in pastured poultry, a more natural method for raising birds. And why a new group wants you to know what’s wrong with most of the chicken you’re eating.

Georgians for Pastured Poultry, an advocacy group whose members include Compassion in World Farming, Georgia Organics, Sierra Club and White Oak Pastures, prefers pastured chickens, which are raised with access to open fields, often in sequence with other animals. The group’s goals include clearing state regulatory hurdles that make it difficult for small farmers to raise chickens independent of the big poultry companies.

“People want this. Chefs want this. Grocery stores want it. Because consumers are demanding it,” says Michael Wall, communications director for Georgia Organics. “It would just be great to see it not coming from another state.”

GPP also wants to make more consumers aware of the alternative to conventionally raised birds—and convince them that pasture-raised poultry is worth $5 or more per pound. But to do that, it has to educate consumers about the cost-cutting practices of the poultry industry.

In other words, it’s going to have to upset you.

On Thursday, Georgians for Pastured Poultry will release a 72-page report detailing the true cost of the cheap chicken processed in Georgia. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Impacts of Chicken Meat Factory Farming in the State of Georgia” makes a pretty good case for why consumers may want to consider an alternative to what we’ve allowed the poultry industry to become.

“We are the largest producing state, and we have the right, even the responsibility, to examine the impact we’re having on this state,” says GPP founding member Leah Garces, also the U.S. director of Compassion in World Farming.

A few report highlights:
    •    In each chicken grow house, up to 30,000 chickens live among their own waste, in perpetual light, with allotted floor space per bird roughly equivalent to the size of a piece of paper. Because of the environment and selective breeding to create a fast-growing, large-breasted bird, they suffer maladies that include leg, heart and lung problems.
    •    Poultry operations in Georgia—the nation’s top broiler producer—create 2 million tons of chicken litter (a combination of bedding materials and waste) per year, about 20 percent of the U.S. total. The litter is spread over land, which can contaminate water supplies.
    •    Each Georgia slaughterhouse kills, on average, about 200,000 chickens per day. Workers repeat the same movements up to 30,000 times each day, accounting for one of the highest occupational injury rates among all private industries.
    •    With that much slaughter going on, you know the fecal matter is flying. Foodborne illness caused by chicken consumption costs Americans about $2.4 billion per year, more than any other food.

I could go on, but you know what? It’s too upsetting.

The pastured poultry folks see a different way of doing business. “If we really committed to a pastured poultry system, it would provide more jobs, and more high quality jobs, and it would provide higher quality life for the workers, for the animals, and for the environment,” Garces says.

Daniel Dover, owner of Darby Farms in Good Hope, imagines the Georgia countryside dotted with small farms where different species of animals graze land in sequence, living a more comfortable life and restoring and replenishing the land in the process.

“It would be beautiful, it would be so green,” he says. “Property values wouldn’t go down on adjoining land. There is no smell—it really makes the earth and the ground more healthy.” The method employs more people per chicken than the conventional system does, and while it would never produce the shear tonnage of meat, it can sustain a local region, Dover says. “The system isn’t meant to feed the world. The world is meant to feed itself.”

Georgians for Pastured Poultry expects some resistance. Wall confirms that Georgia Organics has already heard from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, in fact. But members say that pastured poultry and industrial poultry can co-exist.

“We’re not fooling ourselves into thinking that people are going to overnight stop buying the cheap chicken,” Wall says. “But if enough people demand it, the marketplace will respond. I don’t think it will be huge enough that the poultry industry is going to feel like they need to come out and crush us. There’s room for both.”

Let’s hope so. Maybe state legislators and agents can find a way to encourage pastured poultry farming to succeed here, even if it means tweaking a regulatory system that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, anyway. Because on Thursday, when Georgians for Pastured Poultry releases its report and launches its information campaign, a lot more people are going to get upset about the status quo.

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Comments

  1. RebeccaBurns

    February 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Deborah,

    Thanks for continuing to highlight Georgia businesses like Darby Farms and Thompson Farms (the pig farmer you spotlighted a few weeks ago) that are making an effort to create and alternative to the abuses of factory farming.

    Reply

  2. Cindy

    February 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Best of luck!! I only wish this was happening in Mississippi!

    Reply

  3. JanetC_4371

    February 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Start with Chick-Fil-A. Truett Cathy professes his Christian faith by closing his restaurants on Sunday. Another GREAT Christian example for everyone to follow would be treating God’s creatures with respect. Surely, mistreating animals for profit is not acceptable Christian behavior. This provides a wonderful opportunity for Chick-Fil-A to set an example for all to follow. Step up to the plate Chick-Fil-A!

    Reply

  4. Friend of Georgia

    February 9, 2012 at 12:23 am

    You can grow chicken in a pasture or on a rooftop – even eat it with a fork – for all I care, but slandering the number one job creator in agriculture in order to advance your cause, well, that is what’s wrong with the Georgia Pastured Poultry Association. Go sell your product on it’s own merits – if you can. Don’t try selling it to me though, I like my Georgia grown chicken just the way it is: healthy, safe, cost-efective, environmentally friendly and good for Georgia’s economy. Stick a fork in that.

    Reply

    1. peggysue

      February 9, 2012 at 1:54 am

      This group is, in fact, selling its product on its own merits. These chickens live a better life, are healthier (your opinion is wrong about factory chickens’ healthiness) and, I can tell you on the basis of personal experience, taste better and have far superior texture. As far as the jobs you think are being created, why don’t you go visit one of those factory chicken farms, so you can see the level of these jobs. I really have never understood why folks like you think that a job is a job. That is not true. Terrible working condition and low pay is NOT what American workers need. Also, you might look into whether the workers at a lot of these places are legally in the US. So, go stick a fork in that!

      Reply

      1. goodchik

        February 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm

        friend of ga, read all the parts of the article “The group’s goals include clearing state regulatory hurdles that make it difficult for small farmers to raise chickens independent of the big poultry companies”.

        the group is trying to alleviate barriers that make it hard for the pasture poultry farmer, a good thing, they are not trying rid ga of factory farming, just hoping to allow people more choice, and eliminating the barriers, may just bring their cost and price down, ” There’s room for both.” they say

        Reply

  5. ElizabethFlorio

    February 9, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    We owe it to the chickens and the workers to read the upsetting truth. Thanks for spreading it, Deborah.

    Reply

  6. SteveS_2

    February 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Will anyone who can demonstrate on my plate that chicken raised in a field on a diet of bugs and worms and pecking around in cow, sheep and horse dung tastes $3 per pound better than conventionally farmed birds please get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.

    Reply

  7. Dano of the pasture

    February 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Here are the numbers for jobs per pastured chicken produced on my farm:
    150 chickens equals 1 full time job for at a pay scale of $18.00 per hour.

    Industrial chicken:
    1000 chickens equal 1 full time job at a pay scale of $11.54 per hour.

    Pastured chicken also fertilizes my soil and saves me around $800 in conventional fertilizer costs. They also mow the pasture and reduce unwanted plants and insects in the sward.

    There is much, much more I can show as benefits to pastured poultry but I would need 20 pages

    Reply

  8. chef misha

    February 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Oh, come now. Anyone who would argue AGAINST pastured, humane, clean poultry raising in favor of cheap, horrifying, cruel chicken is clearly milking at the teet of said mafia, er, industry. The amount of water that is used daily in Gainesville alone makes it unsustainable beyond belief. And let’s talk about how many “Americans” this employs. Really. I live in Chicken Town USA and these processing employees (bless their hearts) are my neighbors, friends, co-workers…and they work dawn to dusk, 12 hr shifts, swing shifts, many won’t see the sun for days, and they make minimum wage, yo. And oh, the stories they tell. They won’t eat factory chicken, if that tells you anything. Many pay up to $40 for natural birds from pasture. Even on min. wage. They aren’t reading this article because they don’t speak English, don’t have computers and well—they have kids to raise on minimum wage so you can have cheap drive thru hormone frankenstein chicken sandwiches. who’s got time to read?

    Many are brought here under our Migrant Worker program…ah, did you know that? We fund this. They come legally and are used as cheap labor for a year or two. If they choose to stay in the community or take a pay increase, they are no longer “legal”. If they want to move laterally to another town and be rootless and work for min. they can have temp work Visas. Keeping our food cheap and unhealthy only lines the pockets of a few fat cats at the corporate level while marginalizing entire populations of other human beings and making us sick in the process. And yea, Chik Fil A, McDs and the rest need to step up, but WE as consumers need to step off first. STOP eating there! They have zero incentive to fix what aint broke which makes them wealthy. Demand pastured proteins. And I HEART Darby Farms. And Deborah Geering, btw. Great article as usual.

    Reply

  9. www.gapasturedpoultry.com

    April 9, 2012 at 1:43 am

    long live pastured poultry! it’s not just chicken either….QUAIL, TURKEY, DUCKS…all benefit from pasture. great article.

    Reply