- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - A Cuban-born chicken farmer who protested after Pilgrim’s Pride decided to cancel some Florida growers’ contracts testified Friday that the company discriminated and retaliated against him.

Aldaberto Brito said a company representative told him that he would get more eggs in early March. But after Brito appeared in news coverage protesting the cancellations, “he told me he didn’t have any chickens or eggs,” Brito said in Spanish through a translator.

It was the second day of a hearing in federal bankruptcy court to determine whether Pilgrim’s Pride discriminated against about two dozen Live Oak, Fla., growers _ some of them Hispanic, others disgruntled.

Earlier this week, company officials said they ended contracts with about a fourth of the growers there because they decided to cut shifts at the Live Oak plant before filing for bankruptcy late last year. Officials at the world’s largest chicken producer said growers were chosen based on production factors _ not race or union affiliation, as the farmers have alleged.

Brito testified that he felt his field representative discriminated against him because he is Cuban. He said the man treated him “badly, not good. He never came to my farm with an agreeable look on his face.”

Brito also said that although he owns two farms, the representative “runs it” and can do things that affect his ranking _ a system the company used to decide which growers’ contracts to terminate.

Brito was on the witness stand less than an hour before the hearing ended for the day. It will resume March 31.

Earlier Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis M. Lynn barred The Associated Press, the only news agency covering the hearing, from the courtroom during the four-hour testimony of C. Robert Taylor, an agricultural economics professor at Auburn University.

Lynn said Taylor’s testimony for the farmers included some of the company’s proprietary information, and he later sealed the professor’s testimony and exhibits.

Afterward, Taylor told the AP that he testified about Pilgrim’s Pride’s methods of terminating the growers’ contracts and some alternatives. He declined further comment.

The Pittsburg, Texas-based company cited volatile feed costs and high debt from an acquisition in filing for bankruptcy protection.

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