Letters to the Editor

Craig Watts: Keep food system transparent

Farming is in my blood. My parents were crop farmers, and for more than 20 years I’ve been raising chickens as a contract grower for Perdue on my property near the South Carolina border. But over the years I’ve grown frustrated.

The race to the bottom for the cheapest chicken has forced me and my peers to cut corners, live in economic uncertainly, trade good animal welfare for faster chicken growth and externalize costs on to taxpayers.

I decided enough was enough, and a few months ago I opened my chicken barns to camera crews and an animal welfare organization. I believe in transparency in our food system, and I believe in a farmer’s right to speak out when he sees something wrong. I wanted to show the public the conditions of an average poultry farm and how they were being misled into thinking the situation is better than it is.

I opened my doors to cameras because I saw misleading advertising about the realities of the way chickens were being raised. I shared video and photos of those realities to American public because I thought it deserved to know the truth. As I expected, once the people saw the truth, they were outraged.

In response, instead of taking these concerns and American outrage seriously, those calling the shots in North Carolina’s meat industry are trying to make sure the public never sees inside another factory farm in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 433 and House Bill 405 are deceptive “ag-gag” measures aimed at stopping investigations into North Carolina farms. Lobbying groups such as the Pork Council and Poultry Federation are pushing legislators hard to pass these bills.

Our elected officials shouldn’t be serving the interest of a few powerful companies and trade groups, they should be serving the American public, who, when polled, squarely oppose these types of bills.

Even if animal welfare isn’t a top concern for us when buying meat, food safety should be. Meat, eggs and dairy from animals from intensive conditions, where the farmer has no ability to even speak up when they see something is wrong, just isn’t right and as un-American as it gets.

We need more transparency, not less, if we are going to fix this broken food system. Those in agriculture with common sense should oppose these laws. This law will only heighten distrust toward our industry. Energy should be directed toward fixing the root problems that created this distrust in the first place.

North Carolina’s elected officials must say “no” to SB 433 and HB 405. Democracy thrives on transparency, and our food system should, too.

Craig Watts