Challenge from a chicken farmer

by Erica Shaffer
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A contract chicken farmer for Perdue Farms lodged a whistleblower complaint against the company. Craig Watts alleges Perdue retaliated against him after he participated in a mini-documentary about the condition of birds that Perdue placed on his farm. A spokesperson for Perdue Farms said the company has not been served with a complaint.

Compassion in World Farming released the documentary on Dec. 3. The film depicts dead chickens, injured birds and birds with deformities. Watts claims the conditions on his farm were the result of Perdue's practices and policies.

“Complainant believed that these conditions were the result of practices and conduct by Respondent that increased the chickens’ risk of contamination or infection with Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria, thereby rendering them a threat to consumers who purchase and eat them,” the complaint states.

Following the release of the film, the complaint charges that Perdue subjected Watts to "intensive scrutiny" by sending auditors to his farm almost daily since Jan. 15. But Perdue said the complaint “is more about publicity than legal action.”

“We have been more than professional and accommodating to Mr. Watts,” the company said in a statement. “Our actions are consistent with our standard procedures for handling contract grower issues and what we feel is necessary to ensure that our chickens are receiving appropriate care. As we told Mr. Watts in writing, “Perdue’s increased attention to your poultry farm during the weeks ahead is not for purposes of retribution, but to ensure that Perdue’s poultry are being properly cared for in an environment that ensures both adequate animal husbandry and animal welfare practices.”

The company went on to say that Perdue reminded Watts that the growing contract allows him to terminate his relationship with the company at any time and seek a contract with another poultry company or use his houses for other business purposes.

“We even offered to waive the 90-day notice he is required to give us under the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration regulations that govern poultry contracts,” the company added.
Perdue previously dismissed Watts' claims of retaliation after the release of the video in December 2014.

“Perdue Farms has thoroughly reviewed the video posted by an animal advocacy group, and we can assure you that the conditions shown in this farmer’s poultry house do not reflect Perdue’s standards for how our chickens are raised,” the company said at the time. “It is clear from the video that he is not following our guidelines and failed to provide appropriate animal care.”

Watts is seeking attorney's fees and damages for lost earnings resulting from the delayed placement of his most recent flock. He also seeking repayment of wages paid to his employee, who attended a mandatory training session on Jan. 8.
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