Down on the Factory Farm

Not all that smells there is manure.

Sightings from The Catbird Seat

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From Reader’s Digest, February 1968:


Condensed from American Agriculture and The Rural New Yorker

By Ira Wolfert

IT’S TIME to crow over chickens.

For 20 years, this dream bird has been doing what nothing else has done: gone down, down, down in price. Broilers, for example, averaged 78 cents a pound in 1948; today they average 37 cents.

Even more amazing, the average, non-specialized farmer can now buy a chicken at the supermarket more cheaply than he can raise it!

I found out why during a recent 3000-mile tour of chicken coops between Maine and California. Poultrymen have introduced their birds to the industrial revolution, moving them off the land into “chicken cities” with populations that may reach a million or more.

Here, in what amounts to automated mass-production chemical plants, chickens peck away at computer-selected feed which their digestive systems convert into eggs, meat and fertilizer.

I discovered that there are two kinds of chickens. One kind produces table eggs, the other kind, boilers or fryers. . . .

The egg-type hen weighs about four pounds – and never sees a rooster. The meat-type breeder hen weighs six to eight pounds and shares “her” rooster with 10 to 14 other hens.

Chicken mass production began slowly just after World War II, and has been picking up speed ever since. Operating without government controls or subsidies, the poultrymen essentially have been doing what comes naturally: charging the highest prices they can get. In the meantime, the free market has been doing what comes naturally to it: the most efficient producer has set the price, and his competitors have had to meet it.

Thus, those able and willing to take advantage of each new trick of the trade as it has come along are today clucking contentedly.

I used to think calling a house a “chicken coop” was a way to insult it. No more. Today’s chicken coop can be six stories high and look so much like a modern apartment house that passers-by inquire about vacancies.

When I visited one in Liberty, N.Y., last winter, the farmer’s wife led me into a massive structure two blocks long where 70,000 hens made their residence! They live in wire boxes with inclined floors. Moving chains carry food to them. Their droppings fall through the wire and are removed periodically by mechanical scrapers. Temperature and climate controls keep the litter dry, the air fly-free and sweet-smelling.

Result: an endless white rain of eggs, five dozen a minute, rolling silently down the inclined floors of the cages onto soundless conveyer belts.

And scarcely a squawk in a carload!

Controlled environment is the big thing, the experts say. The chickens are bathed in the kind of rose-colored light found in the more romantic cocktail lounges. The softer the light, the better for egg production. When the light’s at the red end of the spectrum, as at dawn, it has a sexual effect on the chickens, arousing the rooster and stimulating the hen’s femaleness. The brighter the light, the less female the hens become, turning to other business instead.

For an even more radical example of how far our chickens have progressed, let’s visit Egg City in Moorpark, Calif. … It was started in 1953 by a former displaced person named Julius Goldman. He began with 3000 hens but, as falling prices kept shaving the profit per bird, Goldman found he could remain in business only by reinvesting his earnings in more birds. Now he has 1,600,000 in coops scattered over almost 400 acres. Once only a $15,000-a-year business, today Egg City’s manure alone brings in about $6,000 a month, its eggs $25,000 a day. And hens, it might be noted, work seven days a week. . . .

But there is more to creating super chickens than feed alone. Farmers must know, for example, which genes in a chicken’s chromosomes determine how plump its descendants’ breasts will grow, how thick their bones will be, how great their resistance to disease. This subject – genetics – has been investigated as zealously as nutrition. As a result, today’s breeders can “play” a chicken’s genes the way Leonard Bernstein “plays” a symphony orchestra. . . .

With becoming modesty, the geneticists say they merely give nature a chance to develop the innate powers she herself has hidden in the bird….

Today’s egg, for example, may be fertilized on one farm, then hatched elsewhere in incubators that take in 50,000 eggs at a gulp. Then the chick may travel to a destination determined by the particular job it has been bred to do. One farm raises chicks into pullets, another pullets into layers; a third produces eggs. Henry Saglio at Arbor Acres specializes in breeding females which, after fertilization by roosters from breeders who specialize in roosters, produce chicks which are raised by those who specialize in growing broilers.

Holy Toledo! I thought.

Then I learned that Saglio began his sophisticated operation in the 1930s with a chicken coop made from the crate in which the family piano had been delivered. Now he has chicken coops all over the world.

Although he started the foreign activity on his own, Saglio soon won the backing of a corporation created by New York’s Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to demonstrate to overseas producers how Americans “do it,” particularly in the basic areas of human need.

Now Arbor Acres is a $35 million operation which opens a branch wherever chicken is still a luxury food – and brings the price down! So far, this includes 21 nations scattered through South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The most significant feature of this success story is that it is typical. Our breeders have put the American chicken, by the million, on a bandwagon with a global range. . . .

Nor is the end in sight. Both geneticists and nutritionists are confident that nature has put more into the bird than they’ve been able to bring out yet.

“Gains will be smaller each year,” says Dr. Fred Moultrie, genetics research chief at Arbor Acres. “But they’re there, and we’ll find them.”

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August 2, 1999

A Look Inside the Modern Poultry Plant

By Peter S. Goodman, Washington Post Staff Writer

The chicks grow into chickens, then the day of motion arrives: “Chicken catchers” — men who round up flocks by hand — wade into the long, low houses where the birds are raised.

The “houseman” erects a temporary pen with a plastic tarp, then tightens the perimeter as the catchers move in. They capture as many as 50,000 chickens in an 8- to 12-hour shift, lifting three and four at a time in each hand, cramming the birds into steel cages known as “the hole.”

Forklifts place the cages on flatbed trucks, which rumble off to the slaughterhouses. Then forklifts load them onto conveyor belts rolling into the plants.

In a dark chamber inside, workers hang the birds on metal hooks, upside down by their feet. Down the line they roll, hundreds of birds a minute. Bursts of electricity stun them, then the conveyor line runs necks past blades for the kill. Blood drips into tanks the size of wading pools.

The line plunges into foamy hot water, loosening and removing feathers, before the birds head into a gantlet of machinery and blades. One device removes feet before workers re-hang the birds by their drumsticks. Another machine thrusts a cylinder into cavities, reaching through 16 birds at a time, emerging with the guts in one grab.

All through the plants, workers hose down stainless steel sinks, counter tops and floors, redirecting fat, feathers and meat scraps into bloody channels coursing beneath steel grates in the floor. Torrents of water shoot through the cavities of chickens moving down the line.

Hundreds of people work within these cold, damp walls, yet their voices cannot be heard above the din of roaring machinery and whooshing water. The floors glisten with moisture and grease as water rains from everything.

Perdue’s rendering plant in Accomac, Va., daily processes the leftovers from all five of its peninsula slaughterhouses. Inside a dank concrete room the size of an airplane hangar, guts, condemned birds and heads drop from pipes in the ceiling, landing with a splash into a hopper holding 270,000 pounds — a viscous, bloody stew. In another room, three rocket-shaped cookers stretch skyward, boiling the mixture down to its essence. Greasy dust cakes the walls. A sour odor permeates every corner.

The water flowing through slaughterhouses and rendering plants passes through treatment tanks much like public sewer works, then spills into creeks and rivers, still containing some pollution. Despite increasingly strict environmental rules, some are today putting out more pollution than ever, because they are killing more birds and using more water.

Where once slaughterhouses simply killed and dressed chickens and then sent them to market whole, the modern penchant for convenience has placed a premium on boneless, skinless breast, marinated chicken, custom-sized nuggets. More processing steps require more water, straining the capacity of the plants to catch pollution before it spills into creeks.

Meanwhile, tougher food safety standards have forced slaughterhouses to add more washers to clean away waste more intensively, further swelling the rivers washing through plants.

But increased water use is only part of the strain on the plants: More meat is moving down the line, leaving more waste to clean, before the plants release their waste water into the rivers.

A decade ago, Darling International‘s rendering plant in Linkwood, Md., processed 4 million to 5 million pounds of chicken guts, heads, feathers and blood a week, according to company officials. By 1997, the plant was weekly taking in some 14 million pounds. The waste water treatment works bent under the strain: Darling consistently put out more pollution than its Maryland permit allowed, resulting in a state enforcement action that forced the company to upgrade the plant.

“The plant as designed was not sized to handle the load it’s receiving from the poultry processing plants,” said Darling’s vice president for environmental affairs, William R. McMurtry.

“The stuff’s got to go somewhere.”

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

Eating chicken is proving to be an especially hazardous enterprise.

From Earthsave International

For starters, approximately 30 percent of chicken is tainted with Salmonella and 62 percent with its equally virulent cousin, Campylobacter.

Time magazine calls raw chicken “one of the most dangerous items in the American home,” and each year in the US alone, contaminated chicken kills at least 1,000 people while sickening as many as 80 million others.

It’s no surprise really that chicken is decidedly foul. Desperately crowded factory farms – where more than 90 percent of US chickens and eggs are raised–are fertile breeding grounds for disease. Additionally, slaughterhouses do an excellent job of spreading pathogens from one bird to the next.

Even if chicken was pathogen-free (clearly an unsafe assumption for any shopper to make), it would hardly qualify as wholesome. Not only is chicken nearly devoid of health-promoting compounds found only in plant foods–things like complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber–it also contains other suspect ingredients rarely recommended as part of a healthy diet.

Cholesterol. You’ll find just as much artery-filling cholesterol in chicken as in beef and pork. Cholesterol is found exclusively in muscle tissue and can’t be trimmed away.

Protein. People can meet or exceed their protein requirements simply by choosing a varied plant-centered diet and eating ample calories, says the American Dietetic Association. No animal foods are necessary. Many North Americans already eat twice the protein they need, and excessive protein has been linked to osteoporosis, kidney disease and other medical problems.

Antibiotic Residues. Roughly half of all antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals. If meat contains drug residues, it’s highly unlikely to be detected, as these tests are rarely conducted.

Mystery Feed. Each year billions of pounds of slaughterhouse leftovers are made into animal feed, much of it for chickens. Chickens are also sometimes fed manure, which may contain pesticides, drug residues, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones and microbial toxins.

If you took a raw chicken and dropped it in a cow pile or in a pile of chicken manure, would you pick it up, wash it off and cook it for dinner? That’s just about what’s happening at these plants.

— Pat Godfrey, Inspector, Tyson’s chicken processing plant, Springdale, Arkansas

Despite millions of people falling ill each year, the US Department of Agriculture (the government agency responsible for meat safety) continues to stamp every thigh, breast and wing with its seal of approval, prompting many to ask, “Who’s minding the henhouse?”

Sadly, USDA has historically placed the interests of the influential poultry industry ahead of those of the poultry-consuming public. A new, more-scientific government meat inspection system has been agreed upon in principle, but tangible improvements remain years away.

A poultry plant is not a good place to work. When you miss a day they punish you. If you’re sick they punish you. The supervisors holler at you, but you can’t say anything. They treat you like a child.

— Wonder Sims, 23, poultry worker.

The horrors found routinely inside chicken slaughterhouses are not limited to grisly scenes of disassembled chickens. They also include treacherous working conditions and dismally low wages. In 1994, a Wall Street Journal writer described the work he experienced first-hand in several slaughterhouses as, “faster than ever before, subject to Orwellian control and electronic surveillance, arid reduced to limited tasks that are numbingly repetitive, potentially crippling and stripped of any meaningful skills or chance to develop them… The work was so fast-paced that it took on a zany chaos, with arms and boxes and poultry flying in every direction.”

Chicken production also exacts a steep environmental toll.

It takes up to 700 gallons of water, six pounds of grain, and the equivalent of about one-fifth a gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of chicken.

In addition, manure from the chicken industry is directly responsible for wide-spread pollution of waterways and groundwater.

Unless we dramatically curb our appetite for chicken, the future seems grim.

We can expect more people hospitalized and killed by contaminated chicken, and more families mourning the loss of loved ones.

We can look forward to more rivers ;and drinking water fouled with manure, more workers facing perilous tasks and lousy pay, and much more animal suffering.

Despite the present horrors and bleak forecast, however, consumers continue to sleepwalk through the checkout line with shopping carts full of fowl.

One can only wonder, when will we awaken from this nightmare?

For references and more information on this subject, please see:

– Copyright 1997 Earthsave International

July 8, 2003

Chicken Advocates Sue KFC

By Selena Maranjian, The Motley Fool

Amid all the bad news in the world, there have been a few bright points lately. Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT), for example, recently made health-conscious people smile by announcing plans to reduce calories in some of its foods, and limit some of its portion sizes, among other things. In what is arguably even bigger news, McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) announced plans to phase out the use of antibiotics in the meat it uses, worldwide.

What’s next? Well, perhaps the lives (and deaths) of our feathered friends the chickens will soon improve. At least, that’s the aim of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has just sued KFC (the franchise formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) and its parent company, Yum Brands (NYSE: YUM), for allegedly misrepresenting on the KFC website how their chickens are treated.

At issue is KFC’s statement that it aims to ensure, through its chicken treatment guidelines, “that all birds are handled humanely and suffer no pain.” According to PETA, though, KFC buys chickens that have been raised and slaughtered in inhumane (though common and legally permitted) ways.

A few months ago, KFC did unveil plans to institute kinder and gentler chicken-breeding, hatching, and growing practices. PETA’s response at the time was that the changes don’t sufficiently reduce the suffering of the fowl.

The sad life of ordinary chickens in America has long been documented, and you can read some alarming accounts here. For another perspective, visit the website of the other PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals).

Through previous campaigns, PETA and other activists have been successful in changing how some big companies do business. Stay tuned to see if this lawsuit ultimately results in some additional improvements.

Especially if you happen to be a chicken.

November 4, 2002

Meat Plant Was Cited Before Listeria Outbreak

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA – Inspectors had warned a food plant of numerous sanitation violations months before a deadly listeria outbreak was linked to the facility, but little was done to fix the problems, a newspaper reported yesterday.

Moldy pipes, food particles left on conveyor belts, water leaking onto meat and a cockroach found in a locker were among dozens of problems the U.S. Department of Agriculture found at the suburban Wampler Foods plant, according to inspection documents obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Despite being cited for violations more than 40 times since January, “corrective actions were either not implemented or ineffective,” the USDA records said.

The plant closed Oct. 12 after officials identified it as a source of a listeria outbreak blamed for at least seven deaths and dozens of illnesses.

Wampler’s parent company, Pilgrim’s Pride, recalled more than 27 million pounds of turkey and chicken, the biggest meat recall in U.S. history….

USDA inspectors are on site daily at all 6,400 meat-processing plants in the United States, but some consumer advocates have warned that regulatory changes in 1998 took away their enforcement powers.

On Saturday, the USDA said another meat processing company, Jack Lambersky Poultry Co., Inc. recalled 200,000 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and turkey possibly linked to the listeria outbreak.

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February 5, 2002

Sierra Club Vows Suit Over Chicken Farms

By James Bruggers, The Courier-Journal

The Sierra Club will bring a national legal battle to Kentucky in a challenge to Tyson Foods over ammonia fumes and dust from four huge chicken farms.

Representatives of the environmental group said they will announce today in Louisville that the club is notifying the company that it will be filing a federal lawsuit – the first step in litigation under the nation’s Superfund law, Community-Right-To-Know law – and the Clean Air act.

The four Tyson-affiliated farms – in Webster, McLean and Hopkins counties in Western Kentucky – are so large that their fumes and dust should be considered “emissions” under federal laws adopted primarily to control pollution from factories, refineries or chemical plants, Sierra Club representatives said yesterday.

A Tyson spokesman, Ed Nicholson, said he couldn’t comment specifically because he had not seen the Sierra Club’s legal notice.

However, Nicholson said Tyson doesn’t operate any chicken farms in Kentucky. Rather, they are run by farmers who contract with Tyson to grow the company’s chickens.

Two of the four farms have 24 houses, holding up to 600,000 chickens each, and would fall under Clean Air Act provisions, said Barclay Rogers, a San Francisco-based lawyer with the national Sierra Club.

The other two facilities have 16 houses and can hold up to 400,000 chickens each, he said.

“This is all about massive concentrations of chickens,” Rogers said. “It’s not about family farmers.”

“Due to this massive concentration, it is triggering both the reporting requirements for hazardous substances under our toxics laws, and triggering the permit requirements for dust emissions under the Clean Air Act.

“These emissions – and the reason they are required to report them – are because they threaten public health,” Rogers said. . . .

Rogers said the operators of the four chicken farms will be named in the lawsuit. He identified them as Roland Buchanan, the Adams Chicken Farm and the Tyson Chicken Partnership.

Buchanan lives in Georgia. One of his Kentucky farm managers, Lisa Moore of McLean County, said the Sierra Club “has been giving us chicken farms such crap. What do you expect to find in the country? Farms and cattle. Odor goes with it. …”

The Sierra Club’s legal challenge follows action by it, other environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection agency that seeks a shift in how the nation’s environmental laws apply to agriculture.

Last April, the federal EPA accused an Ohio egg producer of violating the Clean Air Act. And in November, the U.S. Justice Department settled litigation with Premium Standard Farms of Missouri, the nation’s second-largest hog producer, after the company agreed to pay fines, install wastewater-treatment facilities and monitor air quality.

However, the EPA’s push to regulate emissions from factory-scale farms has since slowed down.

A letter from EPA administrator Christie Whitman on Nov. 9 states that the EPA does not have “sound emission estimates to support regulatory determinations for animal culture.”

The agency intends to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a policy based on “sound science,” Whitman said.

The lead Kentucky lawyer for the Sierra Club’s action will be Phillip Shepherd, former secretary of the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet.

Shepherd said state and federal environmental regulations have not kept pace with the so-called confined animal feeding operations.

“Regulatory oversight has to some degree been neglected or fallen between the cracks,” he said. . . .

The cabinet’s efforts to control pollution problems from the confined feeding operations and require minimum setbacks from neighbors have been hampered by legal challenges from the industry, said Mark York, a cabinet spokesman. . . .

The cabinet has also tried to make companies like Tyson equally liable with their contractors for violations of environmental laws.

The Sierra Club has similar pending challenges in Oklahoma and Ohio, Rogers said.

Tyson and its partner-operators will have 60 days to respond and correct any problems before the Sierra Club can actually file its lawsuit, Shepherd said.

October 1997

Food Safety, Processing

From Rural Migration News

Poultry and Meat Processing. The US Department of Labor announced that it would inspect about 30 percent of the 174 US poultry processing plants to reduce the injury and illness rate, which is twice the national average and check for wage and hour compliance.

Hudson Foods, the Arkansas-based meat and poultry processor that recalled 25 million pounds of contaminated hamburger in August 1997, was fined $332,500 for what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration called “willful, serious and repeat violations of worker safety requirements” at its Noel, Missouri poultry-processing plant. The violations included blocked fire exits.

In 1991, 25 workers were killed when a fire broke out in a poultry-processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. The death of some of the workers was attributed to blocked fire exits.

Hudson was sold to Tyson Foods in September 1997.

OSHA released a statement that said that, since July 1972, Hudson facilities have been inspected 84 times in 11 states by both state and federal officials, and they found violations in “the vast majority” of the inspections that led to $454,498 in civil penalties.

Hudson’s Noel, Missouri plant was profiled in the November 10-12, 1996 Los Angeles Times series describing how immigrant workers followed the “chicken trail” from border areas to poultry plants. The Noel plant was cited and fined $332,500 by OSHA in July 1997 for, inter alia, not permitting workers to go to the bathroom, the first time OSHA has fined a company for denying toilet breaks.

Hudson Foods, with headquarters in Rogers, Arkansas, is the 29th largest US food company, with 1996 sales of $1.4 billion. It is the fifth-largest producer of chicken products and the 12th-largest producer of turkey products in the country; only seven percent of Hudson’s revenues are from beef.

The recalled beef was processed in a Hudson plant built in 1995 in Columbus, Nebraska, a city of 20,000 about 90 miles west of Omaha. Hudson, with 230 employees, and its plant presses about 400,000 pounds of hamburger each day into patties; the recalled meat is equivalent to one-fifth of the plant’s annual output, and is worth $25 million. Employees believe that the meat was contaminated in the slaughterhouses that supplies hamburger to the Columbus plant.

The Hudson beef recall also renewed interest in food defamation laws, or laws that prohibit false charges that food is not safe. After the TV show 60 Minutes in 1989 reported that Alar a chemical used to ripen appleswas carcinogenic to children, Washington farmers who saw prices and sales plummet persuaded the state legislature to enact a law that makes it unlawful to defame food commodities; 12 states have laws that permit growers to sue those who make allegations that food is unsafe.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey is being sued for a 1996 program on the dangers of eating beef that a Texas cattle rancher says cost him $6.7 million in lost sales. The UFW and most newspapers oppose food defamation laws as an infringement on free speech.

On July 8, 1997, a federal court fined Smithfield Foods Inc. $12.6 million for dumping excessive levels of hog waste into a Chesapeake Bay tributary in violation of the Clean Water Act — the largest such penalty ever assessed in the United States. Smithfield had $4 billion in sales in 1996, is the largest meatpacker on the East Coast, and was charged with 7,000 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1991. The previous record court-imposed fine for violating water pollution laws was $4 million against a Pennsylvania dairy firm.

IBP Inc., the nation’s largest meat packer, accounting for about 40 percent of US beef processed and 20 percent of pork processed, announced plans to raise its own hogs, thereby better controlling quality and enabling IBP to put its label on the company’s pork products.

The number of chickens raised in the five West Virginia counties where the Potomac river begins increased from about seven million in the mid-1980s to 100 million in the mid-1990s, increasing animal-waste run-offs into the river. The poultry processors say responsibility for protecting the river lies with individual farmers, whose contracts say they must follow environmentally sound practices in raising chickens. . . .

A USDA Advisory Committee concluded that “large-scale integrated [poultry] producers could not compete if they had to pay for the social costs they generate.” . . .

Credits: David Segal and Kirstin Downey-Grimsley, “Hudson Foods Has ‘Long History’ of Safety, Health Violations, OSHA Says,” Washington Post, August 23, 1997. Rick Weiss, “Hudson Foods Was Fined More Than $300,000 Last Month for Worker Safety Rule Violations,” Washington Post, August 17, 1997.

Safeway – One of the largest grocery chains in North America.


Grocery Giant Fails to Meet Minimum Standards for Raising and Killing Animals: Shocking Video Footage Tells Story of Cruelty

February 7, 2002

Contact: Bruce Friedrich 757-622-7382

Calgary, Alberta —- After refusing to match minimum animal welfare standards adhered to by McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s—-all of which bowed to PETA pressure for more humane treatment of animals raised and slaughtered to fill the fast-food chains’ menus—-Safeway finds itself the latest target of a boycott by PETA.

PETA will formally announce the boycott and will show broadcast-quality footage of Safeway suppliers’ abusive treatment of animals at a news conference on February 8 in Calgary, near Safeway’s Calgary headquarters.

PETA attempted to negotiate with Safeway executives for 16 months prior to its announcement of a boycott. Yet, despite the U.S. Senate”s recent condemnation of slaughterhouse conditions, Safeway has refused to take steps to ensure that its suppliers are not dismembering fully conscious animals or engaging in other abuses.

Hens raised for Safeway are crowded into cages so small that they can’t so much as stretch one wing. To keep the hens from pecking each other because of the stress of intensive confinement, suppliers slice off the birds’ beaks with searing-hot blades. Breeding sows are confined to concrete stalls no larger than their own bodies, forcing the animals to lie nearly motionless for months on end.

“We have undercover footage from one Safeway supplier showing pigs being beaten, kicked, slammed to the floor, and bludgeoned with hammers,” says Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s Vegan Campaign coordinator. “We alerted Safeway to these abuses, but the company continues to buy from the same cruel supplier.”

Safeway, a Fortune 50 company, is one of the largest grocery chains in North America and is the only major grocery chain that has stores in both the U.S. and Canada. Safeway has U.S. sales three times greater than McDonald’s and operates 214 Canadian grocery stores and seven Canadian meat and dairy plants.

For more information, please visit

Tyson Foods – The world’s largest chicken producer.

In his book, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, investigative reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes:

I had been given comprehensive intelligence files from the Criminal Investigations Division of the Arkansas State Police, going back as far as the early 1970’s . . . I was scarcely able to believe what I was seeing. Among the famous names of the Arkansas oligarchy that jumped out from page after page of criminal intelligence files was Don Tyson, the billionaire president of Tyson Foods and the avuncular patron of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. . . .

A gruff barrel-chested man with a cropped beard and a reputation for ruthless business practice, Don Tyson is one of the great characters of Arkansas. He presides over the biggest chicken processing operation in the world from his “Oval Office” — a replica of the real one — with dooor handles in the shape of eggs….

The family business, based in Springdale, has grown at an explosive rate since the 1960;s, swallowing up rival companies in a relentless quest for market share….

The documents I was looking at made me wonder about the origins of his liquidity. Here were files from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, marked DEA SENSITIVE, under the rubric of the Donald TYSON Drug Trafficking Organization.”

One was from the DEA office in Oklahoma City, dated December 14, 1982. It cited a confidential informant alleging that “TYSON smuggles cocaine from Colombia, South America inside race horses to Hot Springs, Arkansas.” It cited the investigation tracking number for Don J. Tyson, a/k/a “Chicken Man,” as Nadis 470067.

A second document from the DEA office in Tucson, dated July 9, 1984, stated that “the Cooperating Individual had information concerning heroin, cocaine and marijuana trafficking in the States of Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri by the TYSON organization.” The informant described a place called “THE BARN” which TYSON used as a “stash” location for large quantities of marijuana and cocaine.

“THE BARN” area is located between Springdale and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and from the outside the appearance of “THE BARN” looks run down. On the inside of “THE BARN” it is quite plush. . . .

A memo by the Criminal Investigative Section, dated March 22, 1976, states that Don Tyson “is an extremely wealthy man with much political influence and seems to be involved in most every kind of shady operation, especially narcotics, however, has to date gone without implication in any specific crime . . .”

The memo was triggered by a dispute between Tyson and the Teamsters Union over allegations of drug dealing and prostitution at a Teamsters-owned hotel leased by Tyson.

Two sets of documents refer to alleged hit men employed by Tyson to kill drug dealers who owed him money.

Another report alleged that Tyson was using his business plane to smuggle quart jars of methamphetamine. All told, it was a staggering portrait of a drug baron.

None of the allegations led to criminal charges, and it would soon become clear why. Police officers who tried to mount a case against Tyson were destroyed by their superiors in the State Police.

The first to try was Beverly “B.J.” Weaver, then an undercover narcotics officer in Springdale. Working the streets and bars of northwest Arkansas, disguised as a deaf woman, she collected detailed intelligence on Tyson’s alleged smuggling network….

There were loads going out with the chickens,” she explained.

They’d put the coke in the rectums of the chickens, live chickens. That’s how they’d move it.

As the allegations from her informants mounted, she requested the intelligence files on Don Tyson. That is when her problems began. Her colleagues in the Springdale office — who she now believes were “on the take” from the Tyson machine — put out the word that she was “not stable,” that she had “flipped out.” Then it got rough. “They started passing out my photo on the streets, which put my life in danger. I became paranoid. I didn’t trust my phone line. There was nobody I could really trust.”…

By 1987 her position was untenable. Her career in ruins, she resigned from the police and found a job as a security guard in the Bahamas….

~ ~ ~

To Don Tyson, who has reportedly again become disenchanted with Clinton and is giving money to Bob Dole in the 1996 campaign, the business of politics has never been particularly complicated.

It consists of a series of unsentimental transactions between those who need votes and those who have moneya world where every quid has its quo.” . . .

~ ~ ~

But the past is beginning to catch up with Don Tyson.

He has been named as an official target in the criminal probe by Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz, who was appointed to investigate bribery allegations against Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who was later indicted. His chief lobbyist, Robert Greene, has been indicted for lying to investigators in the case. From small beginnings, the Smaltz investigation has widened into a full-scale probe of the Tyson business empire, provoking vehement accusations that it is a “politically motivated witch hunt.”

The Espy affair is a textbook case of Arkansas mores penetrating the U.S. federal government. CBS News’ 60 Minutes reported that Espy was flown to Arkansas to seek the blessing of Don Tyson before he was nominated to his cabinet post.

Once installed at the Agriculture Department, Espy proved to be a friend of the chicken industry. The department scuttled a plan for tougher standards on poultry fecal contamination.

This required shifting the bureaucratic machinery into reverse gear. The plan had already been drawn up, approved, and was set for implementation. The effect was to reduce the likelihood that Tyson products would face random inspection. . . .

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December 20, 2001


Meat processor, 6 officials indicted by grand jury

By Kirstin Downey Grimsley, The Washington Post

A federal grand jury in Tennessee yesterday indicted Tyson Foods Inc., the nation’s largest meat producer, and six current or former executives on charges of conspiring to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States to work in poultry plants.

It is the largest case alleging corporate smuggling of illegal alien workers in U.S. history, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Government prosecutors said the 2 � -year probe of Tyson business practices uncovered managerial conspiracies to import workers from Mexico to work in 15 Tyson plants across the country, including plants in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana.

The indictment said that as part of the conspiracy, Tyson “did cultivate a corporate culture in which the hiring of illegal alien workers …” was condoned by management “to meet its production goals and cut its costs to maximize Tyson profits.”

The grand jury charged that the firm sought to hire more than 2,000 illegal aliens from undercover INS agents posing as Mexican middlemen who offered to bring workers across the border and provide them with fraudulent work documents, including false Social Security cards. . . .

Tyson Foods officials refuted the charges. . . .

Meat producers have said they began hiring recent immigrants because the work – bloody, smelly and repetitious – is not attractive enough to draw American-born job applicants.

But immigration-policy critics say the underlying problem is that the firms pay as little as $7.00 an hour, too little to attract American workers. Producers have said they can’t pay more because consumers won’t buy the products if they are priced too high.

Al Zapanta, president of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said that Tyson, which he called a “good corporate citizen,” and many other American companies, can’t find enough workers in the United States to meet their needs.

“We’re not willing to do these jobs anymore, but immigrants, like always, are willing to do it to provide for their families,” he said.

The genesis of the case was a document INS officials received about hiring practices at the Shelbyville (Tennessee) plant, prosecutor MacCoom said. That led the agency to launch a sting operation using undercover agents.

The agents posing as middlemen recorded numerous telephone conversations with company officials, where supervisors spoke frankly of their interest in hiring undocumented workers, the indictment said.

If convicted, Tyson could face a civil forfeiture of $500,000 per count. It could also be required to relinquish any profits it obtained through hiring workers illegally, MacCoon said.

He noted that Tyson remains under criminal probation since the firm pled guilty in December 1997 to paying an illegal gratuity in the corruption case against former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, a Clinton appointee who was acquitted in 1998.

* * *

October 28, 1999

DPJA Calls for Nationwide Investigation of Tyson Foods

Outraged by the deaths of seven Tyson Foods poultry workers across the country since April of this year, DPJA called for a nationwide investigation of workplace safety practices of the nation’s number one poultry processor.

Holding signs, Alliance members stood in front of the Tyson poultry processing plant in Berlin, Maryland, October 27,1999, as several Tyson managers looked on. Dressed in khaki uniforms the managers watched as seven empty chairs bearing the names of the seven workers killed, were lined up to face them.

April 26, 1999 – Hope, Arkansas: Juan Calvin Alderete, 15 years old, was electrocuted due to bad wiring while catching chickens in a Tyson chicken house.

May 26, 1999 – Carthage, Texas: Jesus Torres Jimenez, 23 years old, died while catching chickens in a Tyson chicken house.

July 23, 1999 – Robards, Kentucky: James Dame, Jr., 40 years old and Michael Hallum, 24 years old, killed when lowered into a pit of decomposing chicken parts.

August 18, 1999 – Harrisonburg, Virginia: Jose Noel Herrera Zantos 19 years old, killed when he became entangled in overhead conveyor.

October 8, 1999 – Berlin, Maryland: Charles Shepperd, 44 years old, was struck on the head by rotating paddles and killed while cleaning the chiller tank.

October 12, 1999 – Harrisonburg, Virginia: Loc Huu Ho, 62 year old, slipped and fell, causing a serious brain injury, from which he died a day later.

“Berlin, Maryland home of the hit movie, Runaway Bride was filmed here” said Reverend Jim Lewis as he led off the press conference. “It is also the home of Runaway Tyson. We want to make clear that this is a runaway company in a runaway industry. Seven deaths, in seven months is unheard of. Tyson is batting seven for seven and we want to know why.” . . .

Meeting with Charles N. Jeffress, Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the request for a nationwide investigation of Tyson Foods work safety practices was repeated.

What you can do …….

Contact OSHA and ask for a nationwide investigation of Tyson Foods work safety practices.

Call: (202) 693-2000

Write: Charles N. Jeffrees, Assistant Secretary
U.S. Department of Labor OSHA
Room S2315
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

For Immediate Release:
December 10, 2001

Lisa Lange 757-622-7382, ext. 1602


Petition Claims Abuse of Animals Bred for Meat Covered by Federal Law

Washington —- Tomorrow, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will file a landmark petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), citing the agency’s failure to apply the federal Humane Slaughter Act to animals handled and killed on factory farms. PETA contends that the USDA has arbitrarily chosen to apply the Act to cover only the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, a policy that violates the mandate of the Act because it allows animals to suffer without inspection from birth onwards, including during transport to slaughter….

The Humane Slaughter Act states that “the slaughtering of livestock and the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter shall be carried out only by humane methods” (emphasis added).

Animals raised for food are raised “in connection with slaughter,” PETA wants the USDA to recognize its obligation to prevent cruelty throughout their lives, not just at slaughterhouses.

Many of the approximately 150 million “livestock” animals killed for food in the United States each year are routinely:

�� castrated and dehorned and have their tails cut off, ears notched, and teeth clipped without the use of anesthesia

�� kept in conditions so cramped that they cannot turn around or fully stretch and must lie in their own excrement, resulting in limb ulceration and upper-respiratory illnesses

�� transported in extreme weather and succumb to heat exhaustion; in the winter, pigs and cows freeze to the sides of trucks and their skin is torn off

�� slaughtered cruelly on the factory farm itself; they are bludgeoned to death with gate poles, hammers, and wrenches, painfully and slowly killed by being improperly bolted, and simply left to starve or dehydrate to death if debilitated and unable to reach food or water

“Animals don’t suddenly develop the capacity to suffer on the day they arrive at the slaughterhouse; they possess that capacity their entire lives,” says PETA attorney Matthew Penzer.

“A ruling in PETA’s favor would make a world of difference to animals who live in pain every day and die horribly, by the millions, on farms every year.”

The petition with video and photograph attachments may be viewed at

Other PETA Sites:


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Last Update July 28, 2003 by The Catbird Seat