John Oliver Takes on America's Sordid Love Affair With Chicken

'How can the people who make the meat we eat the most barely be making a living?,' host asks on 'Last Week Tonight'

John Oliver has been building momentum for Last Week Tonight by exposing the hypocrisy with which America treats its most beloved institutions. A week after his Mother's Day diatribe against the nation's appalling family leave policies, Oliver took on the poultry industry's exploitation of the farmers that raise the nation's favorite meat.

As a National Poultry Council Board Member boasts, the industry currently produces about 160 million chickens a week. "160 million chicks a week! Those are Warren Beatty numbers!" Oliver exclaims. "Those are Rob Lowe at the St. Elmo's Fire premiere numbers. You know what? Those are clean-shaven Leonardo DiCaprio on a yacht anchored outside the Cannes Film Festival numbers."

As they satiate America's vast, gnawing chicken hunger, the four big poultry companies use a system of contract farmers that leaves many of those actually raising the chickens taking on debt and living below the poverty line. With a business model that sees farmers taking on all the expenses of equipment and infrastructure — subject to frequent demands for upgrades — while the corporations own the actual chickens, "That essentially means you own everything that costs money, and we own everything that makes money," Oliver notes. To make matters worse, he reports that the big poultry companies are known to retaliate against any farmers speaking out against the practices.

Toward the end of the segment, Oliver gets into the legislative meat of the issue: although protective rules for poultry farmers have been written, they are not enforced, thanks to a rider inserted into the agriculture appropriations bill that forbids the USDA from enforcing the rules. Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur introduced a measure forbidding such retaliation, which failed to pass the House Appropriations Committee the first time around. But since the committee is meeting again next month and Kaptur might propose her provision once again, Oliver has a solution. 

Introducing the 51 voting members of the committee, Oliver suggests citizens engage in a particularly delectable form of rumor-mongering for those who don't vote in favor of Kaptur's provision: "Because chickenfucker accusations do not come off a Wikipedia page easily."