Foster Farms: Pure Honest Cruelty
According to the Foster Farms website, “excellence, honesty, quality, service and our people will shine through in everything we do.” These claims are little more than propaganda. Foster Farms may want consumers to believe that they are a friendly, wholesome family business, but their actions speak louder than their words.
Foster Farms says: “Our standards are high. We encourage a hands-on management style and require strict attention to detail. In both our people and our products, we're dedicated to excellence. It's a family tradition.”
The reality: Foster Farms is the largest poultry corporation in the West, and among the top ten broiler chicken producers in the U.S. With more than 9,000 employees, Foster Farms is no more a “family business” than other corporations. See below for examples of Foster Farms’ “excellence”.
Foster Farms says: “We're honest people. It's important to us to treat our employees, suppliers, customers and the communities we call home with fairness and respect.”
The reality: Foster Farms resists paying out worker’s compensation claims, even when they are justified. In February 2003, a former Foster Farms worker sued for malicious prosecution after the company challenged a previously settled worker’s compensation claim. Foster Farms was not above spying and invading the privacy of a worker in order to challenge his claim. Such scare tactics may reduce the number of compensation claims brought against Foster Farms, but they are not honest.
Furthermore, in 1998, California Foster Poultry Farms pled guilty to clean water act violations. Their “honesty” did not prevent them from causing serious environmental damage to protected lands. Nor were the communities affected treated “with fairness and respect.”
Foster Farms pled guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento to negligently discharging approximately 11 million gallons of storm water polluted with decomposed chicken manure into the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge between December 1994 and April 1995, violating the Clean Water Act.
Foster Farms also pled guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act by discharging polluted water which eliminated the vernal pool tadpole shrimp, a species protected under the Act. They agreed to pay a criminal fine of $500,000 and were placed on three year probation.
Foster Farms says: “Quality can't be compromised. In fact, the expectations we set for ourselves far exceed government quality standards—our premium products are proof of our vigilance.”
The reality: Foster Farms’ high-speed production lines increase the possibility of contamination and worker injury. In 1999, Foster Farms was forced to recall approximately 33,710 lbs. of turkey franks potentially contaminated with the deadly listeria monocytogenes pathogen.
Foster Farms says: “Our customers and consumers expect exceptional quality and service. So we work hard to never let them down. It's our goal to be the most trusted poultry brand. From our farm to your home, we expect every encounter with Foster Farms to be a pleasant one.”
The reality: Foster Farms’ “farms” are hardly of “exceptional quality.” They are factory-like sheds housing thousands of chickens in crowded, unhealthy conditions. A recent sample of Foster Farms chicken feed revealed the presence of arsenic, and our investigators found dead or dying chickens in each shed they visited. Chickens were routinely missing feathers, their exposed skin raw and irritated by the ammonia fumes from overused litter. Foster Farms claims that each shed is carefully monitored, but the “hands-on” approach they encourage does not apply to the chickens they raise, which are left to the mercy of mechanized systems.
Foster Farms says: “Our people are our biggest asset. That's why we strive to provide them with an enjoyable atmosphere, a clear sense of individual direction and worth, as well as a feeling of accomplishment for a job well done.”
The reality: The employee testimonials on Foster Farms website are all from positions in management and finance – notably absent are the voices of the slaughterhouse workers and contract “growers”. For Foster Farms, “excellence” means profit and efficiency, even at the expense of the lives of individual workers.
If Foster Farms were really concerned about quality, they would improve workers’ wages and work environment. Instead, to cut costs, Foster Farms attempted to double or triple worker health care costs at the world’s largest chicken slaughterhouse. In 1997, over 2,000 Foster Farms workers went on strike to protest the increase, revealing that Foster Farms cares more about its bottom line than its workers or its products.
According to one worker who hung the chickens on the moving belt at the slaughterhouse – he averaged twenty-four chickens a minute, fifteen hundred chickens an hour, eleven thousand chickens a day. Such high-speed production leads to worker injury and animal cruelty.
In 2004, Foster Farms was a top donor to the campaign to put a worker’s compensation reform initiative on the November ballot. Reforms would result in restricted pay outs for workers injured on the job. They contributed $250,000. As of 2004 both Foster Farms poultry and their sister company, Foster Farms Dairy, have had 44 accidents and 100 violations in the last 13 years and been fined more than $73,000 according to OSHA. They also face the possibility of another $73, 555 in fines in unsettled cases. Foster Farms’ commitment to its people apparently does not extend to covering injuries caused by working in their facilities.
Finally, Foster Farms is currently appealing a 2005 safety violation fine at the Kelso plant. Safety investigators from the Department of Labor and Industries fined Foster Farms after an investigation found that employees weren’t properly trained and that investigators helped some employees cheat on mandatory safety exams. Rather than taking steps to ensure that all employees are adequately trained in workplace safety, Foster Farms is accusing the government of manipulating both questions and employees to get the answers they desire. Foster Farms refuses to take responsibility for the poor training practices this investigation revealed; instead, they are attempting to blame investigators and employees for company faults.
Foster Farms says: “Our chickens and turkeys are grown in large poultry barns designed to protect the birds from environmental extremes, while allowing fresh air to constantly circulate. The interior temperature and climate is controlled, and clean water and feed are available at all times. Our barns are built with enough space for the birds to move about freely. The floors are covered with absorbent bedding materials such as rice hulls and wood shavings. And, in the interest of optimal health and development, we keep the birds comfortable, clean and well treated.”
The reality: As already noted, Foster Farms chickens are treated like raw materials, not living beings. The “fresh air” that circulates is ammonia-laden, hot and dust-filled. The birds’ “optimal health” includes ammonia burns, respiratory diseases, crippled legs and sometimes death. Because the birds will often be killed before the full effects of these health problems are apparent, Foster Farms doesn’t consider them worth consideration. The protection from “environmental extremes” leaves the birds extremely sensitive to light and noise, making their final trip to the slaughterhouse a terrifying journey. With as many as 36,000 birds per shed, it is difficult to see how they can “move about freely”.
Foster Farms’ turkeys are treated no better. A turkey rescued outside of a Foster Farms slaughterhouse in Turlock, CA was found covered in blood with the tip of her beak cut off and her toes cut so far down that she had trouble walking. Such mutilations are a common way for factory farmers to deal with the stress aggression caused by overcrowding.
Foster Farms commitment to these animals is best demonstrated by a 2001 incident: In December investigators at a Foster Farms location found chicken barns with an estimated 13,000 chickens collapsed after the mid-December storms. Company representatives came to the farm and shot thousands of the surviving birds. The dead chickens, and many others still alive, were left at the scene. (From HSUS).
Foster Farms, like other large poultry producers, cares more about profit that ethical practices. They strive to minimize costs at the expense of animals, workers and the environment. They make claims that cannot be supported by the evidence. Help Viva!USA show the public what Foster Farms is really like by joining our chicken campaign. For materials and more information, contact us at:
Tel: 530/759-viva (8482)