HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which premiered last April, has consistently shown itself to be a “Daily Show”-level contender for the humor-news crown, featuring long-form pieces on everything from standardized testing to net neutrality to the growing income equality gap. Like “The Daily Show,” “Last Week Tonight” manages to make even the most boring spinach go down easy with a hearty dose of laughter.
Up for discussion on the show last night: the ways major poultry producers exploit contract chicken farmers. Turns out that while those long chicken houses you see all over Arkansas are owned by the farmers, the chickens inside are, from egg to knife, wholly owned by the poultry companies. And, as seen in the episode below, Big Chicken doesn’t like it when the farmers under its wing speak out against the practices of the Company Store.
According to Oliver’s report, many producers hover at the poverty line, forced to compete against their neighbors in a “tournament system” that financially penalizes those whose hens fall below average. When the Obama Administration held town hall meetings on the subject of extending protections for poultry farmers, many growers claimed they were threatened with retaliation if they showed up. Others claim that if they speak out, they’re given scrawnier chicks to start with, which results in smaller chickens.
Also featured in the video: Republican Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas. Oliver skewers Womack for his chummy relationship with huge poultry producers, including Tyson Foods, whose world HQ is in Womack’s district. Of particular interest is Womack’s placing a rider on the agriculture appropriations bill that forbids the USDA from enforcing already-written protections for the nation’s poultry farmers.
Check out the video below. It’s long, but worth it. Womack gets plucked at around the 13:20 mark if you’re pressed for time.