Editor’s Note: Foster Farms and “The Trouble with Chicken”


August 25, 2015

Shortly after our original broadcast of The Trouble With Chicken, we received a letter from a lawyer representing Foster Farms. The letter disputed a finding by the Oregon Public Health Division — which we reported — that one person had died in a 2004 Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that the state linked to Foster Farms.

The company’s attorney wrote, “even if Foster Farms was the source of an outbreak in 2004 (which Foster Farms denies), that fact does not justify attributing a death to Foster Farms.” The attorney also said that Oregon had not informed the company of the 2004 death.

For nearly a year before the broadcast, we sought to interview a representative from Foster Farms, but the company repeatedly declined our requests. We did, however, report in the film that at the time of the 2004 outbreak, Foster Farms had done its own testing and came to a different conclusion than Oregon. The company denied any responsibility for the outbreak and we included their position in our film.

We took the company’s letter seriously and prior to rebroadcasting the film, we went back to the state of Oregon with Foster Farms’ claims. The Public Health Division reviewed their records again, and we consulted with the officials directly involved in the investigation at the time. They reaffirmed their original conclusion that the death was in fact part of the outbreak they linked to Foster Farms.

State and local public health departments are the agencies responsible for investigating outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and determining the number of sicknesses and deaths.  In conducting these investigations they rely, in part, on a CDC established protocol of molecular testing, or DNA fingerprinting, to help determine the source of contamination.  The results are reported into a national database and are used by federal investigators and regulators to intervene and help stop outbreaks.

In considering the complaint the company is now raising, we consulted again with officials at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), as well as authorities at the CDC. These officials noted the rigor of the testing protocols and the reporting system. One of the senior CDC officials also pointed out that Oregon’s outbreak investigators at the time were extremely effective and reliable.

In the recent correspondence with us, Foster Farms’ lawyer demanded a retraction. But following our conversations with officials in Oregon, as well as Washington State, and at the CDC and USDA, we saw no reason to make changes to our film. It accurately reflects the investigative findings of the responsible state health authorities and it fairly notes Foster Farms’ disagreement with those findings.

We invited Foster Farms once again to discuss their position with us, but they would not do so. As we said to the company’s lawyer, it seems that their dispute is with Oregon, not with the journalists reporting the state’s findings.

Andrew Metz

Andrew Metz, Managing Editor, FRONTLINE



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

'Whose Vote Counts' Wins FRONTLINE’s Second Peabody Award of 2021
The documentary joins FRONTLINE's 'China Undercover' among this year’s Peabody winners.
June 22, 2021
FRONTLINE Wins Peabody Award for 'China Undercover'
The documentary investigated what has been described as the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust.
June 21, 2021
Number of Gunshot Victims in Minneapolis is Up 90% From Last Year; Solutions Elusive
As Minneapolis struggles to develop a new approach to public safety amid intense scrutiny of its police department, it faces a depressingly familiar problem: how to curb surging gun violence as the weather warms.
June 19, 2021
The Doctor is Out: Texas Community Worries About Future Without Local Healthcare
The problem the residents of Bowie, TX, face is one that has become more prevalent around the U.S. as at least 136 rural hospitals have closed in the last decade.
June 18, 2021