Foster Farms Raises the Alarm: Union Pacific Service Disruptions Could Mean Starvation for Millions of Chickens and Dairy Cattle


January 12, 2023

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board issued an emergency order which forced the rail line to get feed to California to prevent the deaths of millions of chickens and other livestock.




Complications from extreme winter weather conditions are at least partly to blame for a feed crisis confronting California-based poultry producer Foster Farms.

The shortage of feed — which it blamed on Union Pacific rail delivery failures — imperiled both chickens and cattle, the company said in a Dec. 29 petition to the Service Transportation Board for emergency assistance.

“The point has again been reached where hundreds of thousands of dairy cattle are not being fed, and when millions of chickens will starve to death because of UP’s service failures,” Foster Farms said in the petition.

A day later, the U.S. freight rail regulator ordered Union Pacific to deliver five trains of feed between Dec. 31 and Jan. 3.

Union Pacific says it did so, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. However, Foster Farms said only one of the trains arrived as scheduled.

The company said it was diverting cattle feed to the chickens since chickens are smaller and would die before the cattle.

Union Pacific has blamed its delivery delays on the weather. Besides winter storm complications, it claims to have also encountered washouts in California and rockslides in Nevada.

“Union Pacific continues to work closely with Foster Farms, providing daily updates and delivering the trains addressed in the order,” a company spokeswoman said.

Foster Farms said there is more to the story.

“While Foster Farms concedes that weather played a part, it also believes this failure is indicative of systemic problems within UP that will persist,” the company said in an STB filing Thursday after four of the five feed trains had arrived.

Foster Farms said Union Pacific delays have affected three of its facilities in California since October.

This was the second time in six months that Foster Farms had asked for assistance, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“In June, Foster Farms said it was on the verge of euthanizing millions of birds because of delays in feed shipments, and it received a rare emergency service order from the STB to alleviate the crisis. This type of order was the first in more than a decade,” the outlet reported.


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Owned by the Foster family for eight decades, the company was sold in June to Atlas Holdings, according to KXTV-TV in Sacramento.

Donnie Smith, a former CEO of Tyson, came out of retirement to take over at Foster Farms.

“There were very few opportunities that would cause me to, frankly, get out of what was a deliriously happy retirement,” Smith said at the time. “I had a very fulfilling retirement, but for me, this was such an intriguing and such a phenomenal opportunity for me. … I just couldn’t say no.”


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