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Contract Farmer Sues Perdue

News Section Icon Published 2/19/2015

Whistleblowing on Inhumane Conditions for Chickens Comes at CostFIC and CIWF

Today, in a historic lawsuit, contract farmer Craig Watts filed a complaint suing Perdue Farms. The complaint alleges that Perdue’s decision to audit Watts’ farm and place him under a Performance Improvement Plan were taken in reprisal for protected activity under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The complaint argues that Perdue’s labeling of the chickens as “humanely raised” was misleading, and that Perdue’s breeding and practices increased the risk that birds would become contaminated with salmonella and/or develop infections, in turn threatening consumers’ health.

In December 2014, contract farmer Craig Watts decided he’d had enough. Together with Compassion in World Farming, he released a video that gave the public a unique view into the secretive world of the chicken industry and the inhumane conditions of Perdue factory farms. Hours after the release, Perdue turned up at Watts’ farm to conduct a surprise animal-welfare audit, the first he had ever received in his 22 years of raising chickens. Mr. Watts was then put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) by Perdue and made to take a biosecurity and animal welfare course.

Perdue also publically blamed Watts for poor management of the farm. This is despite the fact that the conditions of his farm were within industry norms, and during his over twenty years with Perdue, Watts has been awarded as a top Perdue producer.

In December, Mr. Watts retained pro bono legal counsel from the Food Integrity Campaign, a program of the Governmental Accountability Project. The Food Integrity Campaign filed the lawsuit today in which Mr. Watts is suing Perdue for retaliation. This is a historic event, the first case and filing of its kind in the US, where a contact farmer and whistleblower files a lawsuit of this nature against a large integrator.

“Although my contract with Perdue has been kept intact, Perdue have been relentless in making my life uncomfortable since I spoke out. I risked everything to tell the truth. I risked friendships with neighbors, my livelihood and the future for my family. Speaking up for what I think is right, has come at a personal price. I’ve been hounded by Perdue since the day I went public with the realities of what happens inside their factory farms,” said Craig Watts, 22-year veteran contract chicken farmer.

“Perdue truly seems to be trying to make Mr. Watt’s life difficult. They have visited the farm over 17 times since the release of the video, giving Watts no real benchmarks, only warnings that in the weeks to come he would need to be compliant. It’s nothing short of retaliation and intimidation for speaking up,” said Amanda Hitt the Director of the Food Integrity Campaign.

“Mr. Watts revealed what the National Chicken Council (NCC), USDA, and Perdue mean by “humanely raised” and “cage-free”: 30,000 chickens stuffed into a windowless warehouse, on feces-ridden litter, made to grow so big so quickly that they can hardly stand on their own two legs. This came at a price. Whistleblowers need to know that they have a right to call out mistreatment of animals and misleading consumer marketing, said Leah Garces, the US Director for Compassion in World Farming. “The lawsuit is about protecting that right.”

This landmark filing marks a first step in an effort for farmers to have the right to speak out against unfair and inhumane conditions on factory farmers.

Maryn McKenna of Wired Magazine first reported this legal filing.

Read the full filed complaint here.

Coming soon: full length news coverage by Fusion TV.

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The Food Integrity Campaign is a program of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, the organization’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Compassion in World Farming is the leading farm animal welfare non-profit, with a mission to end factory farming. We work collaboratively with retailers, manufactures, producers and food service companies around the world to continuously improve the baseline standards for farm animal welfare. Our positive engagement and partnerships through our food business program are set to benefit 287 million farm animals each year. We look forward to working together to increase the number further!