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Challenges Face U.S. Poultry Industry

Chickens crowd Doug Green's huge coop in rural Maryland.
Jack Speer, NPR News /
/
Chickens crowd Doug Green's huge coop in rural Maryland.

Americans eat a lot of chicken -- on average, almost 80 pounds per person per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the American poultry industry is facing some difficult challenges, including a glut of chicken on the world markets and changing consumer tastes.

NPR's Jack Speer reports on how the imminent closing of a Tyson's chicken processing factory on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore is symptomatic of bigger problems for the U.S. chicken industry.

Tyson announced back in April it planned to close its plant in Berlin, Md., eliminating 650 jobs. The company said the facility, which can process about one million chickens a week, was no longer modern enough to keep pace with changes in the industry. Tyson is the biggest single individual employer in Worcester County. Many Tyson workers make less than $20,000 a year -- but finding comparable work may be tough.

Most American chicken processors rely on independent chicken farmers, who sell their chickens directly to them. The cutback will affect them, too. Farmer Doug Green, who grows chickens for Perdue on his Maryland farm, gets about 90 percent of his income from poultry.

He tells Speer that like many other farmers, the smaller poultry growers are increasingly being squeezed out by the large factory-type farms. Foreign tariffs and outbreaks of disease also take their toll on the industry.

"Still, despite the closing and the loss of jobs, there are some in Berlin who won't be too sorry to see the Tyson plant go," Speer says. "Over the years, area residents have often complained about odors from the processing plant."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jack Speer
Jack Speer is a newscaster at NPR in Washington, DC. In this role he reports, writes, edits, and produces live hourly updates which air during NPR programming.
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