Tyson Foods, Inc. (NYSE: TSN) is a multinational corporation based in Springdale, Arkansas. The company is the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork after JBS S.A.. Tyson annually exports the largest percentage of beef out of the United States. Together with its subsidiaries it operates major food brands, including Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Sara Lee, Ball Park, Wright, Aidells, and State Fair.
According to their filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, they generally contract with independent factory farms to raise the animals slaughtered and packaged by Tyson: “We contract primarily with independent contract growers to raise the live chickens and turkeys processed in our poultry operations. A majority of our cattle and hogs are purchased from independent producers who sell livestock to us under marketing contracts or on the open market.”
Tyson is one of the largest suppliers of chicken, beef, and pork to US grocers, food service distributors, and fast food and full service restaurant chains. It supplies all Yum! Brands chains that use chicken, including KFC and Taco Bell. It is also a supplier for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Walmart, Kroger, IGA, Beef O’Brady’s, small restaurant businesses, and prisons.
Tyson’s slaughterhouses kill over two billion birds and mammals every year. To put this in perspective, a total of about nine billion birds and mammals are killed in the US every year.
Tyson has been found guilty of criminal pollution on multiple occasions. For example, in Missouri in 2003, Tyson pled guilty to 20 felonies and paid $7.5 million for Clean Water Act violations. (“Tyson Pleads Guilty to 20 Felonies and Agrees to Pay $7.5 Million for Clean Water Act Violations”) In 2004, Tyson was one of six companies to pay a $7.3 million fee to the city of Tulsa, OK, to settle charges that the use of chicken waste as fertilizer had polluted Tulsa’s main source of drinking water. In 2009, Tyson paid a $4.1 million fine for polluting the Missouri River.
Treatment of Animals: Policies
Unlike many of their competitors, and most of the largest buyers, Tyson has not adopted the leading animal welfare policies. They have not banned gestation crates for pigs, have not abolished battery cages for egg-laying hens, and have not adopted a slower-growing broiler policy. They justify this by saying they don’t control their independent contractors. They have also refused to adopt Controlled Atmosphere Killing (CAK) for birds.
Mercy For Animals maintains a specific page – TysonTorturesAnimals.com – as a summary of their investigations of Tyson. Here are some of their investigations:
- Video from Palmetto Farms – Tennessee, 2016
Hidden cameras captured thousands of chickens suffering from untreated injuries, illnesses, and crippling leg deformities at this Tyson contract farm. The video shows countless birds crammed into filthy, windowless sheds and forced to live for weeks in their own waste and toxic ammonia fumes. Animal rights groups continue to blast poultry industry – USA Today
“For the fourth time in less than a year, an anti-animal cruelty group has infiltrated a facility connected to mega-meat supplier Tyson Foods and secretly filmed graphic video showing what they contend is inhumane treatment of chickens grown by America’s biggest poultry producer. The new video from the Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals was filmed at a Tyson contract farm in Lewisburg, Tenn., and shows images of deformed birds, filthy conditions and sickly chickens that the group claims are bred so fast they are unable to carry their own weight.”
- Video from Tyson Foods Carthage – Mississippi, 2015
At one of the largest bird slaughterhouses in the world, a whistleblower filmed animal abuse. As a result, Tyson Foods and several of its workers faced 33 counts of criminal cruelty to animals charges following the release of this hidden-camera footage exposing workers punching, throwing, and tormenting chickens for fun and ripping off their heads while they are still alive and conscious. Birds were painfully shocked with electricity but remained fully conscious when their throats were cut open. Activists allege widespread cruelty at Tyson’s chicken factory. – USA Today
“An anti-animal cruelty group says it has secretly recorded Tyson Foods workers punching, throwing and pulling the heads off of live broiler chickens at one of the mega meat producer’s plants in Mississippi where up to 2.5 million chickens are slaughtered each week.”
- Video from T & S Farm – Tennessee, 2015
At this contract farm for Tyson Foods – a major McDonald’s McNugget supplier –undercover video revealed owners impaling birds with makeshift spiked clubs and stepping on birds’ heads while pulling their wings or bodies to break their necks. Two individuals pled guilty to cruelty to animals charges, and the farm lost its contract with Tyson. McDonald’s supplier fired for alleged animal abuse – CNN
“Tyson Foods ended a contract with a chicken supplier after an animal rights group released footage showing workers beating birds with spiked sticks and deformed chickens crammed into overcrowded conditions.”
- Video from McGinnis Farms – Delaware, 2015
Hidden camera footage showed workers at this Tyson contract farm kicking, clubbing, and throwing chickens while thousands of severely sick and injured animals were left to suffer without proper veterinary care or access to food and water. Animal Rights Group Accuses Delaware Farm of Torturing Chickens to Death – NBC Philadelphia
“‘Tyson Foods is literally torturing chickens to death,’ said MFA’s president, Nathan Runkle. ‘They are crammed into filthy, windowless sheds, thrown, kicked, and brutalized by careless workers, and bred to grow so fast they suffer from painful leg deformities and heart attacks. This is sickening animal abuse no company with morals should support. Tyson Foods has not only the power, but also the ethical responsibility to end the worst forms of cruelty to animals in its supply chain.’”
Tyson Foods dumps pig farm after NBC shows company video of alleged abuse
“The nation’s largest meat producer says it has terminated its contract with an Oklahoma farm after NBC News showed the company undercover video of workers on the farm kicking, hitting and throwing pigs and slamming piglets into the ground.”
Tyson Foods changes pig care policies after NBC shows undercover video
“The nation’s largest meat producer has announced new animal care guidelines for its pork suppliers a month and a half after NBC News showed the company undercover video of workers on one of its farms kicking and hitting pigs and slamming piglets into the ground.”
- Video from Virginia 2015
Video shows Tyson workers punching and kicking birds, while other birds are crushed to death by transport crates and run over by forklifts. Tyson worker is caught on tape warning the undercover investigator that “you can’t let nobody see you do that” as he stepped on a chicken’s head, suffocating her. “You don’t know if he’s working for the animal rights,” the worker says. “It is inhumane standing on his head and let them suffocate. They’ll take you to court for that.”
Upon reviewing the video, Ian J.H. Duncan, Emeritus Chair in Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph gave a statement: “This is gross cruelty causing unnecessary pain and suffering and a contravention of animal cruelty laws in all civilized countries.” As a result of the investigation, Tyson banned “boning,” where a plastic rod is shoved through a young male’s nostrils. Also, 10 employees were fired.
“In the face of new allegations of ghastly animal abuse by its employees, Tyson Foods says it’s retraining all of its live poultry workers on the company’s animal welfare policies. The move by one of the world’s largest meat producers came as the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing released secretly-recorded footage on Thursday that shows Tyson workers stomping, kicking and suffocating breeder chickens at facilities in three Virginia counties. Tyson says it has fired ten workers who can be seen in the video, and a senior company executive, Christine Daugherty, described the employees’ actions as ‘disgusting.’”
“The chickens were brought in on a conveyor belt that were covered in dirt and feces. The conditions in the live hang are filthy and horrendous for both the people and the animals. When the conveyor belt turned on, the lights would be turned off. All you heard was the constant terrified clucks of the babies who were barely 6 weeks of age,” says the ALDF undercover investigator. “The absolute worst thing I had to do while working at Tyson was to rip the heads off of live chickens. You could tell that the chickens were alive and scared as you put their heads into the hook.”
Tyson Foods Under Fire As Second Video Shows Chicken Abuse – Fox Business
Starting in 2007, Tyson started promoting its chicken as “Raised without Antibiotics.” The USDA noted that this wasn’t true, and Tyson changed its language to “raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans.” Perdue and Sanderson Farms sued under “truth in advertising/labeling” and won in May 2008, when a federal judge ordered Tyson to stop making claims about antibiotics. In June 2008, inspectors from the USDA found that Tyson had also been using another important antibiotic. Richard Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety noted that the company concealed use of this antibiotic. (“USDA says Tyson used antibiotics on chicken.”) At this point, Tyson removed language about antibiotics from its packaged chickens. In May 2017, Tyson claimed it will go antibiotic-free by the end of the year. (“Tyson Foods will eliminate antibiotics in chicken.”)
“A Lincoln County, TN, poultry farm that supplies Tyson Foods took the brunt of avian flu’s return, when 73,500 chickens had to be destroyed to prevent them from entering the food supply or spreading the virus. Another 30 farms within a 10-mile radius are under quarantine…Meanwhile, a lower pathogenic H5N8 bird flu has also been confirmed in Wisconsin…The Springfield, AR, company did see its stock take a $1.61 hit when news of the avian flu first got out. It also prompted Japan and Singapore to at least temporarily ban poultry from both Tennessee and Wisconsin, areas of the United States experiencing Avian flu…Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan have also put a halt on U.S. poultry imports to those countries.”
“Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction,” Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) told FOX Business. “Today, the U.S. food giant, which got its start during The Great Depression, already owns a 5% stake in a plant-based protein start-up called Beyond Meat. The company also launched a venture capital fund worth $150 million to invest in startups that develop meat substitutes. Hayes, who was named Tyson Foods president last June and took over as CEO after Donnie Smith stepped down in December, has already vowed to ditch the controversial use of antibiotics in a majority of the company’s poultry. “‘We just got to the point last year where the consumer is demanding [the elimination of antibiotics in the food chain] and wants transparency. They want to have trust in the brands they buy …. [so] let’s push ourselves to go all the way,’ Hayes told FOX Business.
“Tyson announced Monday that it has launched a $150 million venture capital fund, called Tyson New Ventures LLC. The company has said the fund will complement its existing investments and will focus on companies that are developing ‘breakthrough’ technology and business models. “And, of course, meatless meats. … Tyson executive vice president of strategy Monica McGurk … praised Tyson’s new step, saying in a statement, ‘This fund is about broadening our exposure to innovative, new forms of protein and ways of producing food.’”
Tyson currently employs around 113,000 people, about 6,000 of whom are outside the US, primarily in China. For fiscal year 2015, Tyson had revenue of $41.37 billion, up from $37.58 for fiscal year 2014. Net income for 2015 was $1.22 billion, up from $864 million in 2014.
As expected for one of the world’s largest meat producers, there is an incredible amount of brutality and even sadism throughout Tyson’s operations. This is perhaps even truer because they use independent contractors to raise the animals Tyson then slaughters and sells. Unlike many competitors, Tyson is not progressive on abolishing some of the worst cruelties in animal ag – battery cages, gestation crates, super-fast-growing chickens. They’ve played (and lost) a semantic game with regards to antibiotics; it remains to be seen how honest their 2017 attempt will be.
However, it does appear that there is some part of Tyson that does see the future will be different than the present. Getting in on the ground floor of the plant-based protein revolution shows significant foresight and flexibility of thought.