Unveiling the Truth About Tyson Chicken

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In a world where fairness and justice should be fundamental principles, especially when it comes to the food we consume, it’s disheartening to discover that a handful of colossal meat and poultry corporations have wielded unchecked power, amassing billions in profits while negatively impacting consumers, farmers, laborers, and local communities. Antitrust regulators have seemingly turned a blind eye to the unchecked dominance of Tyson Foods and other industry giants. This extreme corporate consolidation has driven smaller companies and farmers out of business, exploited and endangered meatpacking workers, concentrated hazardous waste that pollutes our water and land, and enabled these conglomerates to manipulate prices and overcharge consumers.

In a nation founded on principles of competition, the status quo is far from ideal.

Tyson Foods: The Epitome of Monopoly

Decades of deregulation in the meat industry, initiated in the 1980s, have handed near-monopolistic control of the sector to a select few meat and poultry producers. Remarkably, just four beef processors—Cargill, JBS, National Beef, and Tyson Foods—command 85 percent of the market. Among them, Tyson stands out as the most powerful and consequential player.

Tyson Foods reigns as the largest food company in the United States, boasting an annual revenue exceeding $42 billion. It processes a staggering one-fifth of all chicken, beef, and pork sold in the country. Even if you don’t directly purchase Tyson-labeled products, it’s challenging to avoid their influence. Tyson supplies meat to numerous schools and fast-food chains, including the source of every McDonald’s chicken nugget. Additionally, Tyson owns a portfolio of beloved brands, such as Ball Park, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, and Sara Lee.

Tyson adheres to a chicken production system termed “vertical integration,” meaning the company controls every facet of the production process, from raising the birds to providing feed, transportation, and processing plants. Consequently, Tyson faces minimal competition across most stages of its supply chain. It can dictate market conditions, including unsafe working conditions for employees and environmental contamination resulting from chicken waste.

Tyson’s dominance empowers it to establish chicken prices for restaurants, grocery stores, and other purchasers while cutting costs in its supply chain by underpaying workers and farmers and polluting local communities. This system results in substantial profits for top executives and shareholders.

The Scientific Insight into Tyson’s Near-Monopoly

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has conducted investigations that reveal the extent of Tyson’s control over our food and farming system. In a 2022 analysis, it was estimated that in 2020, Tyson required 9 to 10 million acres of land, an area roughly twice the size of New Jersey or equivalent to about 5 percent of all US corn and soybean acres planted that year, to cultivate feed for the 6 million head of cattle, 22 million hogs, and nearly 2 billion chickens processed by Tyson. The industrial farming practices associated with corn and soybean cultivation contribute to soil erosion, water pollution, coastal dead zones, and heightened vulnerability to extreme weather. With control over such extensive farmland, Tyson possesses both an opportunity and a responsibility to promote sustainable farming practices.

At the local level, a 2021 UCS analysis demonstrated that Tyson operates as a near-monopoly in its home state of Arkansas. This report found that:

  • Tyson accounts for over two-thirds of poultry processing in the state.
  • In seven counties, Tyson exclusively controls broiler chicken production.
  • Since 1990, Tyson has made 47 acquisitions throughout the supply chain, significantly more than its competitors, encompassing processing plants, chicken breeders, and even the mills that produce chicken feed.
  • Tyson’s escalating dominance in the industry since 1978 coincided with a 50 percent reduction in poultry farms in Arkansas. This decline transpired despite a 1,000 percent increase in the number of chickens raised annually in the state.

The concentration of chicken waste and other pollutants around the farms and plants controlled by Tyson in northwestern Arkansas jeopardizes both human health and the environment. The most affected counties are home to a significant proportion of Arkansas’s Latino and Native American populations, who must contend with the consequences of historical injustices in addition to the air and water pollution caused by Tyson.

Tyson’s Treatment of Laborers

A joint investigation by UCS, Venceremos (a worker-rights organization in Arkansas), and The Guardian newspaper unveiled a disheartening reality within Tyson’s workforce. Employees at Tyson work in an environment characterized by fear and intimidation, limited benefits, inadequate COVID-19 protections, a punitive points-based system that pressures them to work while ill, and unacceptable risks of physical harm. Many of Tyson’s employees are immigrants with limited employment options who reluctantly accept perilous working conditions and pollution in their communities due to their lack of bargaining power.

Empowering Consumers

Every member of society, including consumers, community members, workers, farmers, and scientists, holds significant power when united in demanding fairness within the food system. Public pressure can compel the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen and enforce antitrust regulations that promote fairness and restrain companies like Tyson Foods. While the USDA’s regulatory capacity was weakened during the Trump administration, the Biden administration has taken steps to enhance competition, investing $1 billion in financing and other support for smaller-scale meat and poultry processors and facilitating more avenues for farmers to market their products in ways that benefit workers, communities, and the environment. However, further federal action is required to dismantle the near-monopoly dominance of Tyson Foods.

Everyone deserves access to affordable food produced sustainably and equitably. Policies that sustain the disproportionate influence of companies like Tyson restrict access to high-quality food for many individuals. Curbing consolidation and fostering competition can expand access to superior food options for consumers across all income levels. Individual choices also play a crucial role. Consider purchasing directly from independent farmers or smaller-scale processors at farmers markets or through community-supported agriculture (CSA) arrangements.

Act now to advocate for a fairer and more sustainable food system and to hold Tyson and other corporations accountable for their actions.

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