Modesto Anarcho Journal
Published October 2006
The Intersection of Eco, Worker, and Animal Struggles in the Fight Against Foster Farms in the Valley
East Bay Animal Advocates, (EBAA), is one of the leading lights of the new breed of animal liberation organizations struggling in the field currently.
Along with groups like Compassion Over Killing, (COK), and Mercy for Animals, (MFA), EBAA works to educate consumers, (through outreach, vegan feed-ins, etc), about the affects of the industrial factory farming industry, and also take action against it, (investigations, animal rescue, etc).
Since it’s start, the group has managed to perform various investigations into multiple large farms in the central valley and bay area, and has recently set it’s sights on Foster Farms.
Last fall, workers at the plant formed their own union, (after breaking with an AFL-CIO based union), and started doing strikes. Although the strikes as of yet have not won the workers demands, (centered around health care, pay increases, anti-discrimination, etc), the workers remain committed, and more struggle could erupt at any time.
At the same time as this strike was going on, EBAA was also knee deep in a fight against animal cruelty at Foster Farms. What follows is an interview with someone involved in the East Bay Animal Advocates campaign against Foster Farms, about how the struggle for animal liberation locally affects more than just the animals. (Questions in bold).
How big of a corporation is Foster Farms? Do they have a large impact and/or sway in the valley?
Foster Farms is the largest poultry producer in the Western United States. The poultry company is the 9th largest in the United States, generating $1.5 billion in annual revenues. Each year, Foster Farms spends approximately $11 million on company marketing, while poultry welfare is compromised. Foster Farms also is the largest private dairy producer in California.
How did you become aware of what was going on at Foster Farms?
In 2005, East Bay Animal Advocates (EBAA) requested a tour of Foster Farm's live broiler (chicken meat) operations. Foster Farms denied the tour request. Vickie Medeiros, a Foster Farms Consumer Affairs Representative, informed EBAA that the company does not "offer public tours." In addition, we requested the following information from Foster Farms:
• A copy of the company's most recent Animal Welfare Audit report
• A copy of the company's animal welfare protocols
• A copy of the company's employee training procedures regarding animal handling at hatcheries, grow-out ranches and processing plants
• A summary of the credentials and qualifications of the company's Animal Welfare Officer
To-date, Foster Farms has not provided the requested materials. EBAA conducted an investigation of Foster Farms' broiler operations in Merced County, California's top broiler producing county and home of the company's headquarters.
Explain some of the work that EBAA has be doing in relation to documenting abuses. What have you uncovered?
Our investigative documentation reveals that chickens are repeatedly denied proper veterinary care and attention at Foster Farms. Poultry abuse issues revealed at Foster Farms include:
Stunted growth (i.e. Broiler Runting Syndrome);
Severe ammonia burns on breast, legs, feet;
Heart attacks (i.e. Sudden Death Syndrome);
Leg abnormalities (i.e. Splay-Leg Disorder & Lameness);
High newborn chicken mortality;
Fatal respiratory infections;
Substantial feather-loss; AND
Can you describe what an "open rescue" is? Has EBAA helped former Foster animals find new, liberated lives?
"Open rescue" work is a technique used by animal advocates around the globe. Individuals who engage in open rescues document conditions of animals suffering in factory farms, research facilities and beyond. Due to the exigent circumstances, individuals provide relief to animals languishing in these abusive environments.
Rescuers openly identify themselves as they document conditions and rescue animals.
Open rescue work is an extremely effective way of directly protecting animals and educating the public about the systematic abuse of animals. Over the course of our investigation of Foster Farms, 39 sick and injured chickens were rescued and relocated to new homes - free of abuse and suffering.
What is environmental impact of Foster Farms on the valley?
In addition to inhumane practices, Foster Farms has an undeniably negative impact on the Central Valley environment. Regularly, the company pollutes waterways & groundwater and diminishes air quality through the region. Plus, Foster Farms feeds its chickens arsenic, which contaminates the Central Valley soil.
In the United States District Court, in fact, Foster Farms pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act. The company discarded 11 million gallons of chicken-manure-polluted water into the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.
How does the ongoing labor struggle of the Foster Farms workers play into the work that you are doing? The fast pace of industrial production seems to play into the oppression of both the animals and the workers, what do you think this says about industrial factory farming in general?
Foster Farms employees are displeased by low wages, racial discrimination, favoritism by supervisors, occupational hazards, short notice of overtime shifts, pressure to increase production, an anti-union atmosphere and unreasonable health insurance costs at the Foster Farms chicken slaughterhouse in Livingston, California.
As the world's largest slaughterhouse, the Livingston plant processes nearly 600,000 chickens a day. Merced County is plagued by high unemployment rates. Unfortunately, working at Foster Farms is one of the only options available to residents.
Bottom-line: Providing the hard-working employees of Foster Farms with much-deserved benefits will have a positive impact on animals. Believe it or not, live hangers at Foster Farms are expected to hang 23 chickens per minute on the line for slaughter. So, slowing down the production line means improved conditions for birds and employees.
Unifying labor and humane concerns is key to enacting change at Foster Farms and elsewhere.
The fast-paced nature of large-scale food production is predicated on animal abuse and labor violations. Poultry companies like Foster Farms, Tyson Foods, and Gold Kist are extremely successful in the U.S economy because they generate huge revenues at the expense of human and animal health.
It is critical to educate consumers about the actual practices of companies like Foster Farms. Consumers are not provided with an accurate set of information about how animals are actually raised for human consumption. We have to change that.
Can you talk about the success of pressuring Costco and other stores in regards to the campaign?
Since our advocacy activities revolve around improving the lives of animals, we regularly work with companies to bolster animal-friendly policies. The retailers of Foster Farms products play an important role in influencing business practices of their poultry purveyor.
Through grassroots educational outreach, we are now working with Costco Wholesale, Safeway and Berkeley Bowl Marketplace to improve conditions for animals at Foster Farms.
What's next for the Foster Farms campaign?
We look forward to working with other vendors of Foster Farms in a positive fashion. In addition, we will be focusing our energies on countering Foster Farms' misleading advertising.
Our photographic and video evidence reveals a level of actual care and treatment that is inconsistent with the information Foster Farms communicates to its consumers about the treatment and care of its birds.
On June 1, 2006, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus announced its referral of EBAA's false advertising case (originally filed in December 2005) to the Federal Trade Commission for possible law enforcement action against Foster Farms.
How can people support EBAA work?
We always welcome volunteers, whether folks are new to animal advocacy or seasoned campaigners. Ongoing grassroots efforts are the backbone of our work for animal protection. Check us out on the web at: www.EastBayAnimalAdvocates.org