Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.
Is the U.S. chicken industry cheating its farmers?
FERN and The Guardian
The nation’s chicken farmers have long alleged that they’re being swindled by big poultry companies. Now, as Leah Douglas and Chris Leonard explain in FERN’s latest investigation with The Guardian, it appears there could be a way for poultry companies to insure tight market control of chicken farmers and squeeze their pay. “The U.S. poultry industry is able to share highly detailed information on farmer pay, leaked documents show, giving companies the potential to collude and suppress prices paid to farmers already struggling to keep themselves afloat on razor thin margins,” Douglas and Leonard write.
The New York Times
Reconstructing a 2015 outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella yields insights into how the livestock industry has influenced government to evade on-farm oversight. “The surge in drug-resistant infections is one of the world’s most ominous health threats, and public health authorities say one of the biggest causes is farmers who dose millions of pigs, cows and chickens with antibiotics to keep them healthy — sometimes in crowded conditions before slaughter,” writes Matt Richtel. “But public health investigators at times have been unable to obtain even the most basic information about practices on farms.”
As the market for plant-based meat grows, the beef industry faces an existential threat, writes Rowan Jacobsen. “Yes, a good argument can be made that small-farm, grass-fed beef production (in places that can grow abundant grass) has a very different ethical and environmental landscape, but unfortunately, that’s just not a significant factor. America gets 97 percent of its beef from feedlots. And feedlots are irredeemable.”
The New Food Economy
“Unlike styrofoam clamshells or wax-lined soup cups, fiber products feel like they’d turn into mush on a leaf pile. They seem to offer convenience without the karmic debt, a way to eat that leaves no trace,” writes Joe Fassler. “But these products, for reasons that have slipped under the radar until recently, are instead contributing to a growing environmental crisis.” Why? Experts say “all molded fiber bowls contain PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a broad class of more than 4,000 fluorinated compounds that do not biodegrade naturally in the environment,” meaning they’re not truly compostable.
Temperatures in the Central Valley are expected to rise significantly in the coming decades due to climate change. What lies ahead for the area’s farmers? “The lessons learned here, or not learned, have implications for agricultural regions elsewhere, from the American Midwest to North Africa, southern Europe and southwest China. These breadbaskets are already experiencing similar extremes of heat, drought, and flood, and new pests and diseases,” writes Mark Schapiro. “Climate change is revealing the vulnerabilities of an industrial agriculture system that relies on predictability. And it’s shining a light on alternative growing practices that are potentially more resilient to these environmental shifts.”