WASHINGTON – Farmer whistleblower and Government Accountability Project client Trina McClendon testified this week before the US House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, on “Reviving Competition, Part 5: Addressing the Effects of Economic Concentration on Americas Food Supply.” She spoke about rampant consolidation and unmitigated concentration in the agricultural sector and how that impacts America’s chicken farmers.
Trina McClendon has been a poultry grower for the last 19 years. In 2003, Trina McClendon and her late husband, Rusty McClendon, signed a contract to grow chickens exclusively for Sanderson Farms. Mrs. McClendon stated in her testimony:
“As the years passed, we faced new, unexpected stresses that took their toll. At all times, we were at the mercy of Sanderson who told us exactly what we could and couldn’t do. Rusty was often very worried that Sanderson could terminate our contract at any time for any reason and that we would lose the family farm and our home.”
In December 2017, Rusty succumbed to the stress from contract growing and had a massive heart attack, leaving Mrs. McClendon a widow and the sole owner of an eight-house poultry farm. Mrs. McClendon forged ahead with the job of raising high-quality chickens. Her farm, Trinity Poultry Farms, consistently ranks as one of the top poultry growers in her region of Mississippi.
Trina McClendon became a whistleblower following an announcement that the company she worked for was merging. In August 2021 Cargill/Continental Grain announced it was buying Sanderson, the only Fortune 1000 company in the state of Mississippi, for $4.53 billion. A couple of days later, she was offered a new contract that would cut her farm income by one-third. She did not want to sign, but was told that whether she signed or not, she would get a pay decrease.
Mrs. McClendon and 45 other Mississippi poultry farms formed an alliance and compiled a list of demands for Sanderson. In addition to reversing the pay cut, they asked for greater transparency, better working conditions, cost of living increases and an end to the tournament system.
Government Accountability Project Food Integrity Campaign Director, Amanda Hitt stated in supporting written testimony:
“In a theoretically free and fair marketplace, if your business partnership is doing well, you should be rewarded for your investment and hard work by a share of the profits. But the poultry industry has strayed very far from being a free and fair market. Even as company profits have skyrocketed into the billions annually, farmer pay is actually decreasing over time.”
Trina McClendon testified to bring attention to unfair and exploitative tactics poultry companies use and how consolidation in the industry leads to one-sided contracts, lack of transparency, pay uncertainty, the illusion of choice, and fear tactics that keep farmers from speaking out. Trina McClendon is aware that she can face retaliation for speaking out and bringing her testimony to Congress but feels a duty to do so on behalf of America’s farmers and rural America.
At the end of her testimony, Trina McClendon asked for bipartisan action that enforces current Antitrust laws, place a temporary moratorium on large food and agribusiness mergers (Consistent with H.R.2933 – Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019) and support the improved Packers and Stockyards Act rules as they are issued by the USDA.
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