Challenging Big Chicken

From dangerous new rules at slaughterhouses to the rock-bottom wages fast-food workers get paid, there are many reasons to lay off this kind of poultry.

By Martha Burk

Darn. I missed the official celebration in September — bet you did too. But even if we’re late, we still have time to mark National Chicken Month. Websites are giving us myriad ways to observe the bird. Eat more chicken! Do the chicken dance! Read Chicken Little!

To be sure, the chicken is a noble bird and has fed many a pastor on Sunday. But all this celebrating got me to thinking. When we’re talkin’ chicken, who pays and who profits?

Looking at the bottom line, KFC definitely rules the roost, with over $4.5 billion in annual sales just in our own country. Chick-Fil-A, Popeyes, and Church’s round out the top tier. So it’s pretty easy to see who profits.

And who pays? Customers, of course, but also workers. KFC pays just a few cents over the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. KFC workers joined others in the fast food industry to stage a series of one-day strikes over wages this summer, and the company recently settled a class action lawsuit brought by 13,000 employees who were denied breaks and overtime required by law.

This shows us why chicken is cheap — chicken sellers are even cheaper.

And as for that age-old question: Which came first, the corporate chicken industry or safety violations and lax inspections? Corporate chicken, of course.

Companies like Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride have lobbied for years to get out from under inspections, and it looks like they’ve finally succeeded. The Obama administration is getting ready to finalize a rule to cut 75 percent of USDA inspectors and put companies in charge of inspecting their own plants. But it’ll be OK if they miss a little dirt and doo-doo, because the chicken will be sprayed with bleach just in case. Health and safety groups are petitioning the USDA to just say no.

So let’s all celebrate Chicken Month in October. Here are some ideas that didn’t make the industry’s official list. Sign the petition against the new rule, tell Congress to raise the minimum wage, and “Eat Less Chikin.”

This post was previously published on and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


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