Chicken farmers say processors treat them like servants

FILE - This Dec. 2, 2008 file photo shows a Pilgrim's Pride contract chicken farm full of three-week-old chicks just outside the city limits of Pittsburg, Texas. A group of former chicken farmers from five states, intent on changing the way the nation's largest poultry processors pay farmers for raising chickens, have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Oklahoma. Seeking class-action status, the farmers, allege that the contract grower industry structure created by Pilgrim's Pride and other companies pushed them deep into debt. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former chicken farmers in five states have filed a federal lawsuit accusing giant poultry processing companies of treating the farmers who raise the chickens like indentured servants and colluding to fix prices paid to them.

The farmers located in Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas allege that the contract grower system created by Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, Koch Foods, and Sanderson Farms pushed them deep into debt.

They are seeking class action status for the suit filed in federal court in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

The scheme keeps farmers in a state of indebted servitude “living like modern-day sharecroppers on the ragged edge of bankruptcy,” the lawsuit filed on Jan. 27 says.

The companies named haven’t yet responded to the lawsuit in court, but Tyson denied the allegations.