Monday, March 17, 2014

The Unhealthy Meat Market. By Nicholas Kristof

(The New York Times) Where does our food come from? Often the answer is Tyson Foods, America’s meat factory.

Tyson, one of the nation’s 100 biggest companies, slaughters 135,000 head of cattle a week, along with 391,000 hogs and an astonishing 41 million chickens. Nearly all Americans regularly eat Tyson meat — at home, at McDonalds, at a cafeteria, at a nursing home.

“Even if Tyson did not produce a given piece of meat, the consumer is really only picking between different versions of the same commoditized beef, chicken, and pork that is produced through a system Tyson pioneered,” says Christopher Leonard, a longtime agribusiness journalist, in his new book about Tyson called “The Meat Racket.”

Leonard’s book argues that a handful of companies, led by Tyson, control our meat industry in ways that raise concerns about the impact on animals and humans alike, while tearing at the fabric of rural America. Many chicken farmers don’t even own the chickens they raise or know what’s in the feed. They just raise the poultry on contract for Tyson, and many struggle to make a living.

Concerned by the meat oligopoly’s dominance of rural America, President Obama undertook a push beginning in 2010 to strengthen antitrust oversight of the meat industry and make it easier for farmers to sue meatpackers. The aim was grand: to create a “new rural economy” to empower individual farmers.

Big Meat’s lobbyists used its friends in Congress to crush the Obama administration’s regulatory effort, which collapsed in “spectacular failure,” Leonard writes.

Factory farming has plenty of devastating consequences, but it’s only fair to acknowledge that it has benefited our pocketbooks. When President Herbert Hoover dreamed of putting “a chicken in every pot,” chicken was a luxury dish more expensive than beef. In 1930, whole dressed chicken retailed for $6.48 a pound in today’s currency, according to the National Chicken Council. By last year, partly because of Tyson, chicken retailed for an average price of $1.57 per pound — much less than beef.

Costs came down partly because scientific breeding reduced the length of time needed to raise a chicken to slaughter by more than half since 1925, even as a chicken’s weight doubled. The amount of feed required to produce a pound of chicken has also dropped sharply.

Source: The New York TimesA version of this op-ed appears in print on March 13, 2014, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Unhealthy Meat Market.
Author: Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times since 2001, writes op-ed columns that appear twice a week. Mr. Kristof won the Pulitzer Prize two times, in 1990 and 2006. In 2012, he was a Pulitzer finalist in Commentary for his 2011 columns that often focused on the disenfranchised in many parts of the world. 
Mr. Kristof grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Oregon. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College and then studied law at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, graduating with first class honors. He later studied Arabic in Cairo and Chinese in Taipei ... ► Read more
Photo: Hey Chipotle│Farming America

1 comment:

  1. Seneca remarks that God gives wealth and power to the people He often does to discredit wealth and power as proper human goals—as if he’d just read Christopher Leonard's new book about Tyson, The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business—a book that led Mr. Kristof to write "The Unhealthy Meat Market" (NYT, March 12, 2014). Yet the full horror of the book does not come through in Kristof''s retelling—neither the soulless landscape on which the clashing of parasitic greed and impotent poverty plays itself out, nor the mountains of helpless dying baby animals whose torment no one other than the author seems to notice.

    Kristof calls factory farming "a catastrophe for animals," yet he ignores the catastrophe of slaughter that exists even on so-called sustainable farms. He speaks as if the main problem with non-industrialized animal agriculture were monetary. Given the threat ALL animal agriculture poses to the survival of the planet, given its role in legitimizing violence and the cheapening of life as such, given the daily abusing of animals also on many family farms, the issue of cost per pound would seem almost beside the point. And there IS a viable alternative. Go vegan. Boycott all animal products.

    Joan Cynthia Harrison, PhD
    Independent Advocate for Animals