Tyson Foods: the story of your meat


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Have you ever questioned where your foods come from? For example, chickens. Chickens are raised rapidly in closed, condensed and dusty environment by contract farms. They have to injected antibiotics to chickens periodically. After six to seven weeks, undocumented immigrants, also named “catchers”, are transported to contract farms by food company in midnight to catch chickens and send to slaughter house. Hanging on the belts in slaughterhouse, chickens are tortured by cutting necks,urinated by workers or slammed into shackles. Most of chickens lost parts of their bodies before they actually died. Finally, meat are packed on assembling lines and sent to markets.

Tyson Foods, Inc. is an American multinational food corporation. It is the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork. Also, Tyson Foods is the second-largest food production company in the Fortune 500 and one of the 100 largest companies in the United States. It offers the value-added chicken, beef and pork. For example, fresh beef and pork, frozen chicken, meat toppings, chicken nuggets, wings and tenders, and supermarket deli chicken products. Moreover, Tyson Foods is the supplier of fast-food chain like, KFC, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Wal-Mart, etc. It has more than 6000 independent contract farms to grow chickens for Tyson.

According to the Tyson Foods Inc.’s annual report in 2012, media campaigns related to food production present risks. Social media provides the opportunities for individuals or organizations to publicize the inaccurate and inappropriate perceptions or stories about Tyson Foods. Such actions would damage the reputation of Tyson and cause the negative financial results. Also, Tyson claimed that if their products are contaminated, they might be subject to product liability claims and products recalls.[1]

According to my researches about the Tyson Foods, the company had involved into controversies of hiring illegal immigrants, torturing birds in slaughterhouse, injecting antibiotics to livestock, and poor relationships with contract farmers.

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In 2001, there were six employees on charges that it conspired to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Mexican border to work in its processing plants. Besides, the Tyson Foods was investigated of hiring illegal workers from Mexico and Central America area. The government said illegal immigrants were hired through smugglers. Tyson Foods Inc. paid $100-$200 per head to smugglers and illegal workers were also expected to pay money to smugglers.[2] Illegal immigrants were hired to do works that most of legal workers were not willing to do. For example, illegal immigrants were hired to catch chickens in Tyson’s contract farms. It was an extremely disgusting and risky job. They had to catch every chicken in the farm intotrunks. Illegal workers were potentially exposed to epidemic disease from dead chicken.

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From 2004 to 2005, PETA (People for The Ethical Treatment of Animal) conducted undercover investigation in one of Tyson’s slaughterhouse in Alabama. PETA’s investigators saw the torture of chickens. For example, chickens were processed before completed dead. A back-up killer stabbed birds in neck area with knives. People claim that employees were seen throwing around dead chickens for fun. Moreover, investors saw workers urinated in the live-hang area.[3]

In 2008, Tyson Foods agreed to remove its “raised without antibiotics” label in the future packaging and advertising. Using antibiotics is a normal phenomenon among contract farms not only in Tyson Foods. Carole Morison, a Maryland chicken farmer with Perdue Farms, was the only contract farmer that allowed the Food, Inc to film the inside of henhouse. She was terminated the contract with Perdue as the cost of this action. Carole said chickens were injected antibiotics to avoid disease. She is now allergic to antibiotic because of touching it for years. The using of antibiotic would cause the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in human body.

Tyson Foods, Inc was unethical without any doubt. It is complex if we consider the problems from three schools of ethics. From deontological perspective, Tyson Foods was unethical because its producing processes were not based on moral principles. The company should not violate illegal immigrants’ human rights, as they have no protection from social security and health care. Also, torturing birds in slaughterhouse violated the Animal Protection Law and the rights of animals. However, deontology has constrains prohibit the performance of an action which could prevent further violation.[4] In this case, using antibiotics could prevent the infectious disease, which is essential in crowded henhouse. “ How can the minimization of morally objectionable conduct be morally unacceptable?”[5] said Scheffler. I think constrains of deontology based on the direct conduction instead of the morality of consequences. It is also related with the conflict with consequentialist reasoning that consequentialism always focus on whether the results of an action are moral or immoral.

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From consequential perspective, one the one hand, Tyson Foods had difficulties to hire legal workers as “catchers” unless Tyson offers high wages. If they cannot hire cheap catchers, it would lower the efficiency of production and cause the loss of profits. Also, interference of Tyson on slaughterhouse scandal would reveal the fact of torturing in slaughterhouse, and result in the damage of company’s reputation. Furthermore, even though antibiotic injection would cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the sick livestock would generate infectious disease, like swine flu. So, on the other hand, Tyson Foods provides efficient meat-supply with cheap price to satisfy the market. It is a good consequence according to consequentialism. However, from my perspective, the best consequence dose not equal to the best available consequence. “A decision with good consequence may contradict an important ethical principle.” stated in Trevino.[6] I personally disagree with this statement. Since consequentialism is one of the three schools of ethics, it should possess informal and indirect responsibility in shaping what we take our moral obligation to be, ideally. So the best available consequences of Tyson Foods are to replace the human caters with machines, to address the punishments on torture events and to eliminate the use of antibiotics.

Finally, I would like to mention Carole Morison, who revealed the facts of contract farmers. I think this is an example of virtue ethics. She was terminated the contract with Perdue Foods because of showing the inside of henhouse in Food, Inc. She understood the outcomes of disobeying the company but, from her personal intension, Carole decided to reveal the facts that food companies try to hide. The goal of virtue ethics is to be a good person you wish to be. Intensions and motivations to be moral are more important than principles, rules and consequences. Carol was the only one out of dozens of contract farmers that bravely stood out. For carol, her intension motivated her to make ethical decisions that to reveal the dark side of food companies. I believe that virtue ethics is more related with deontology as both of these two ethics focus less on the consequence of action. Or virtue ethics can be seen as competing against consequentialism.

Overall, even though there are different perspectives provided by three schools of ethics when analyze each problem, Tyson Foods, Inc was still unethical in its production process. It is essential for Tyson Foods to look for solutions for problems, since it is the major supplier of meat in United States. No matter which school of ethics we discussed, to guarantee the food safety as stated in Tyson’s mission statement.

 

 


[2] David Barboza (2001, Dec 20), “Tyson Foods Indicated in Plan To Smuggle Illegal Workers”, The New York Times, from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/20/us/tyson-foods-indicted-in-plan-to-smuggle-illegal-workers.html

[4] Christopher McMahon, “The Paradox of Deontology”, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol.20, No 4 (Autumn, 1991), p 28

[5] Scheffler, “Agent-Centered Restrictions,” p. 409.

[6] Linda K. Trevino, Katherine A, Nelson, “ Managing Business Ethics”, fiftn edition, p 46

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2 thoughts on “Tyson Foods: the story of your meat

  1. Whole eating tyson chicken makes me violently ill, the graphic you have on this page is of rabbits during the skinning process and not chickens.

  2. Why can’t they just ask us American citizen’s to go contract first before they decide to hire illegal immigrants ..we need to support our family too just as much as they do besides that they are the ones abusing the chickens and they don’t know how to run a chicken catching business immigrant have no team work ever since they took over in catching chickens its been really hard for Americans to get a job or even contracts

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