TROUTMAN, N.C. – A report scrutinizing the safety and legality of poultry processor Case Farms’ business practices, published May 1 by ProPublica, a self-proclaimed independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, and subsequently published by The New Yorker, triggered a response from officials at the poultry company, which defended its employment policies and operational standards, disagreeing with the negative characterization of the company.
According to a written response to the article, Case Farms said: “The statements and allegations relating to our hiring practices, treatment of employees, safety concerns and animal welfare, are false and misleading. The article also omits many contrary facts and mixes industry issues, which causes some confusion. Case Farms is committed to implementing our core values every day. As we have grown in size, we still adhere to the same hometown values of honesty, accountability, trust and success that were established decades ago.”
The company also points out that it made its operations accessible to the reporter of the article, Michael Grabell. “Case Farms provided the article’s author tours of both Ohio facilities and interviews with senior management, along with ongoing access to management for numerous conversations throughout the investigation.”
The company went on to outline its philosophy on employment and its appreciation for its workers, including the benefits and compensation structure it offers employees. It defended its practices to ensure the eligibility of its employees with regard to immigration status and complying with the rights of terminated or injured workers.
“Our legal system provides protection for employees who take legally protected and concerted action. We have always respected and protected those rights,” the company stated. “However, our company policy has been, and continues to be, to take reasonable steps to evaluate the situation when presented evidence questioning the immigration status of one of our employees. What actions we take depend on the facts and the nature of what we have learned and from whom.”
As for the allegations made in the article claiming the company’s worker safety standards created a dangerous workplace for employees, including violations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Case Farms said it disagreed with how it was portrayed, and admitted it endures the same workplace safety challenges all companies in the meat and poultry industry do.
“While we do not agree with the characterization of our company by the former director of OSHA, we do acknowledge the mistakes we have made and are currently in negotiations to resolve the outstanding citations for all our Ohio facilities,” said the company’s statement. It goes on to state the company has invested in training software to ensure proper documentation of training to ensure the safety of its workers and its safety standards have been recognized by industry awarding excellence in employee safety.
Case Farms defended its hiring and compensation offerings and opportunity for advancement within the company. It pointed out that one category of workers, chicken catchers, which were negatively portrayed in the article earned an average salary of $65,000 in 2016.
The company went on to defend its practices of working with third-party contractors, stating that it relies on those companies to use its expertise and experience to ensure the safety of their company’s workers. It clarified that the injured worker mentioned in the article worked for one such contractor, Cal-Clean, and that Case Farms is not affiliated with the firm.
Finally, Case Farms addressed the claims in the article that its workers were not part of a labor union and its animal welfare practices.
“Case Farms is not an anti-union company,” according to the statement. “Case Farms has a working relationship with a union since March 2012 when Case Farms purchased the assets of Park Farms in Canton, Ohio. The Case Farms Canton processing plant is governed by an agreement with the union through March 2018.”
On animal welfare, the statement said: “Our employees and growers share a committed responsibility to ensure the well-being and humane handling of all animals in our care. Our poultry welfare officers and company veterinarians have developed a program of daily practices and procedures that enable us to properly train and monitor employees in all areas throughout the lifespan of the chickens. These procedures are based on guidelines provided by the National Chicken Council and the American Humane Certified program. Under both of these programs, company practices are examined for attention to factors that impact the planned health of chicken flocks. Our programs focus on topics such as carefully formulated feed, access to an ample supply of clean water, adequate room to grow, proper growing conditions, professional veterinary attention and proper handling.”
It added that animal welfare practices are monitored by third-party auditing firms to ensure best industry practices are being maintained and documented.