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Poultry Industry Smothers Immigrant Farmers and Abuses Antibiotics

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page, Fair Trade and Social Issues page, and our Disturbing Facts on Factory Farming & Food Safety page.

The U.S. meat industry offers some of the biggest bargains you can find: stuff like "boneless skinless chicken breasts" for just two bucks a pound; or a "Crispy Chicken Sandwich" for a dollar.

But when you dig beneath the marketing jargon and the coupon fliers, you start to see that all that cheap bird flesh has a much heftier price tag than meets the naked eye. In all my writing about the meat industry, the main theme is the destructive power of consolidation in a market geared to cheapness. If you have three or four big players competing not to see who can deliver the highest-quality product, but rather the cheapest product, you're inviting all manner of abuses.

To make money while striving to churn out the cheapest chicken wing you possibly can, the trick is to spend as little as possible doing it. If you can keep your costs low enough -- or push them off onto someone else -- you can make a few pennies on each pound of chicken. And if you can sell enough chicken, those pennies can add up to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in profits.

The American Prospect's Monica Potts has published an outstanding piece on one way the poultry industry keeps costs down and profits up: by shunting as much risk as possible onto the farm-operators they buy birds from under contract.