A series of new billboards aimed at finding whistleblowers in Georgia’s poultry industry and exposing the industry’s alleged wrongdoing will soon be unveiled in Forsyth County.
According to Leah Garcés, president of the non-profit group Mercy For Animals, over the next week, four billboard ads will be placed along Hwy. 9 in Forsyth County asking chicken farmers and plant workers to blow the whistle on their employer and posing the question, “What is America’s largest chicken company hiding?”
Two of the billboard ads will be on Hwy. 9 north of Buford Dam Road, while two others will be along the roadway at Market Place Boulevard and Atlanta Highway.
Garcés said that the billboards will advertise Mercy For Animals’ online platform, ChickieLeaks.com, a website where whistleblowers can tell their story in a secure, anonymous setting.
The group says it plans to use those stories to put pressure on the poultry industry and hold companies like Tyson Foods accountable for their practices.
"This is a place where whistleblowers can anonymously, or not anonymously, report wrongdoing they are witnessing within the chicken industry," she said. “We're saying, 'We're here, we're watching. We know you aren't a clean industry, there are a lot of stories out there and we're going to tell them.'"
The group says that two of the biggest issues that the chicken industry faces can be seen with how the animals and farmers are treated.
According to Garcés, millions of chickens raised for their meat, known as “broiler” chickens, are forced to live in crowded windowless warehouses while farmers are paid pennies on the dollar for their animals.
In a statement to the Forsyth County News, Tyson Foods spokesman Worth Sparkman said that the company is aware of the billboard campaign.
Sparkman said Tyson Foods, the country’s largest chicken producer, is committed to improving their practices and believes that “ensuring the proper health and welfare of animals is an important moral and ethical responsibility.”
In addition to animal welfare research Tyson does relating to raising chickens, growing space and lighting, he said that over the last year an advisory council of farmers and contract poultry farmers bill of rights was created. The initiative gives their farmers the right to discuss their contracts with outside parties and to terminate contracts, among other things.
Despite these changes and statements made by Tyson, Garcés said that they hope to make changes and fight issues in the poultry industry wherever they may be by forming an “unlikely alliance” between farmers and animal rights groups.
Finding whistleblowers and starting a dialogue with farmers is the first step towards that alliance, she said.
"At its core, the industry is aware that farmers need to be treated better and the chickens need to be treated better; they know that," she said. "We are just calling them out on that. And if farmers and advocates could work side by side, I think that there would be a really big change and shift in the industry."
Cumming and nearby Gainesville have been the focal point of Georgia’s poultry industry for decades. Tyson Foods and Koch Foods, two of the country’s largest poultry processors, are among the county’s biggest employers with 1,100 and 1,200 workers, respectively, at their local plants, according to the statistics from Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.