The U.S. poultry industry was the target of a segment of “Last Week Tonight,” hosted by political satirist and comedian John Oliver. The segment, aired on May 17, took a critical and satirical look at the relationship between broiler companies and their contract growers.

The segment included video clips of testimonies from chicken farmers and from congressional hearings, with many of those clips followed by critical commentary from Oliver about the companies' and industry’s treatment of farmers. Oliver specifically named the four largest poultry companies in the United States: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms.

The show concluded with Oliver calling on viewers to contact their legislators and encourage them to support potential legislation that aims to protect farmers that speak out about the industry’s tournament system.


Poultry industry responds to criticism

Oliver’s segment included jabs at comments made by staff members of the National Chicken Council (NCC), which called the Oliver’s show “a completely one-sided view of U.S. poultry production” and an inaccurate “reflection of the overwhelming majority of the 25,000 farm families who partner with chicken companies.”

Chicken companies work closely with their farmers to build relationships based on a shared goal of success, NCC stated, adding that these relationships have helped family farms thrive in an otherwise shrinking industry.  Citing a University of Delaware survey, NCC said 75 percent of farmers were satisfied in their relationship with the chicken company, and 73 percent were satisfied with business overall. 

“This system has allowed us to insulate farmers from the risk of changing market prices for chicken and feed ingredients such as corn and soybean meal, which represent the vast majority of the cost of growing a chicken,” NCC stated. “In other words, farmers are guaranteed a consistent price for their efforts, no matter what the markets are doing.  The system has worked well for decades and kept tens of thousands of families on farms who otherwise would have had to get out of agriculture altogether.  It makes no economic sense for a company to do anything to jeopardize farmers from growing the healthiest chickens possible. Raising top quality birds produces wholesome chicken, and paychecks, for both farmers and the companies.”