Submitted by: Nancy Battle
Georgia DOA putting small poultry growers out of business - Want to know why?
Mary Beth Sellars and her family are one of about 50 pasture raised poultry growers in Georgia. They sell organic or natural, free range chickens. These growers process from 100 to 5000 chickens annually for food. They employ procedures to ready the chickens for market in accordance with guidelines supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They have a loyal customer base of Georgia restaurants and families. They also have a historic track record of producing quality products at reasonable prices for those consumers. They have never had a recall of products or any complaint filed to reporting agencies within the Georgia Department of Agriculture. But the Georgia Department of Agriculture (DOA) is establishing new, still unpublished, regulations for small poultry growers that are about to devastate their businesses.
Newly drafted regulations would require these growers to use indoor processing facilities that are only required for large growers who raise 20,000 or more birds each year. The first problem with this planned new requirement is that there are currently no indoor processing facilities in Georgia where these growers could take their chickens to prepare them for market. They would have to incur the costs of taking the chickens out of the state for processing which would double the cost of the chicken to their consumers. The other alternative is for the growers to build indoor, multi-structure facilities according to DOA specifications that include unnecessary requirements. The cost for Mary Beth to build such a facility would be three times the total annual earnings from her chicken sales. This cost is so high that it could not even be covered with an increased price of chickens because it would render her business non-competitive with large growers. Nevertheless, she and all small growers will be forced to comply or lose their ability to sell in markets or restaurants. I asked Mary Beth how would the new regulations impact her. She replied: “They would put me out of business.”
Other Georgia growers agree. They met in April to determine how to combat the new regulations. They decided to form a group named Georgia Pastured Poultry Association to give them a stronger voice. Some are already involved in a feasibility study to build an independent processing plant in Georgia or a mobile processing unit that can travel to each farm. But that would take at least 18 months to two years to implement. In the meantime, I decided to contact the DOA and determine if what the growers believe is really true. A DOA representative confirmed to me that new regulations are being created. She also conceded that she knew of no previous problems or complaints regarding pasture raised poultry products in Georgia. Since consumer protection was not an issue, I asked: ‘What is the purpose of the all the new regulations then?” She repeated several times that the new regulations will “help” the small growers. Although perhaps unknown to her, that is obviously a blatant lie. When pressed, she eventually confirmed that processing structures (not required under U.S.D.A. guidelines) will be required under the new regulations. I then explained to her how the new regulations were not “helping” the small growers, but would likely devastate them.
The new DOA regulations for small poultry growers will also be costly to enforce if, in fact, the DOA can enforce them at all. The regulations must be published, distributed and maintained. New DOA agents must also be hired to regularly inspect farms around the state and locate any new growers. Nevertheless, DOA chief, Gary Black, who was elected in 2010, seems intent on implementing these restrictions. Ironically, the planks of the Republican Party platform on which he ran for election consistently advocate less regulation, less government spending, small business friendliness and private property rights protection. Mr. Black’s leadership in this regard has demonstrated the exact opposite mode of operation than his 2010 candidate platform.
So who benefits from the new regulations? It is not Georgia consumers who have experienced no problems with the current USDA procedures used by these small growers. It is certainly not Georgia taxpayers who will have to pay for the regulations. As is typical, one can follow the money to find an answer. Enter Will Harris, of White Oak pastures, a founding member of Georgians for Pastured Poultry.
Will Harris recently built the only USDA poultry processing plant in Georgia. His farm stands to make a half million dollars or more if he decided to open the new facility to process the 100,000 or so chickens raised annually by small poultry growers in Georgia. But as of this writing, the facility remains private, therefore, the other growers will be forced to fold their businesses leaving a void of about 100,000 chickens to fill in the marketplace. This would create an even more lucrative opportunity because guess who is the only Georgia farmer who could fill that void in the marketplace. That’s right, it seems to be Will Harris, whose farm and processing facility could handle the increase in production. Will also just happens to be a major campaign contributor to Gary Black, donating $6,100 to his 2010 election campaign. The new, oppressive regulations that Gary Black wants to impose on small poultry growers will actually benefit his major campaign contributor greatly whether White Oak processes the poultry for other growers or gains an in state monopoly on pastured poultry growing. For example, at $5 per chicken, an additional 100,000 chickens that White Oak farms would be able to process and sell to current customers of the small growers could amount to about $500,000 or more of extra revenue for the farm. This represents a near hundred fold return on the investment made by White Oak farms in Mr. Black and it does not even include the benefits of increased prices to all Georgia consumers that a future monopoly on in state pastured poultry can bring to the farm.
But let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong with Will Harris increasing his business to the maximum and making as much money as he can. That is the American way of free enterprise. There is also nothing wrong with him making a maximum contribution to any politician of his choice. That is legally allowable. It is not even wrong for Gary Black to accept such a generous contribution. What’s wrong with this picture is when Gary Black decided to implement devastatingly new oppressive regulations for small poultry growers and increase spending in his department to enforce the regulations, all for the benefit of one of his major campaign contributors. That is about as wrong as it gets in public service. In fact, it leaves the lingering question of whether or not the large contribution to Gary Black and his subsequent actions constitute bribery under federal law. The federal code, 18 USC § 201 - BRIBERY OF PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND WITNESSES (b), defines bribery in part as:
· (2)being a public official or person selected to be a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for: (A)being influenced in the performance of any official act;”Was the donation that Will Harris made to Gary Black a bribe? Perhaps that question is best answered by the office of our U.S. Attorney.