Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tyson: Abused Pigs (2014)

Tyson Corp. logo

Tyson Foods is the largest chicken, beef, and pork producer in the nation. It also has one of the largest reputations concerning its meat supply. Tyson has become known to have a history of purchasing its pork products from farms that aren’t necessarily practicing proper animal handling. (Forbes). The first of two known cases of Tyson suppliers practicing animal cruelty concerned a farm from Wyoming called Wyoming Premium Farms. At the beginning of 2012, the Animal Legal Defense Fund became aware of animal cruelty convictions stemming from abuse at Wyoming Premium Farms and brought the convictions to the Federal Trade Commission’s attention. (ALDF). This occurred a few months after the Animal Legal Defense Fund, or ALDF, had informed the FTC about Tyson’s allegedly false claims on their website “regarding false and deceptive claims about Tyson Food, Inc’s self-proclaimed industry leadership of animal welfare.” (ALDF). The Wyoming Livestock Board and the Platte County Attorney's Office ended up charging nine employees, including two managers, at Wyoming Premium Farms with cruelty to animals following an undercover investigation of the farm by the Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS investigation provided law enforcement with “documented rampant animal abuse at Wyoming Premium and showed workers kicking live piglets like soccer balls, swinging sick piglets in circles by their hind legs, striking mother pigs with their fists and repeatedly and forcefully kicking them as they resisted leaving their young.” (HSUS). The video can be viewed at HERE, although it contains graphic content. As Tyson became aware of the Wyoming Premium incident, it changed its website once again, removing industry leadership references to instead highlight an “Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel” and “FarmCheck” supplier auditing program. (ALDF).

Tyson seemed to be rebuilding the parts of its reputation that may have been hurt in the Wyoming Farms scandal by implementing these processes. However, another supplier somehow slipped under the radar, despite Tyson’s alleged new process of performing farm checks, and was caught by a source other than Tyson for abuse of pigs. In November 2014, Tyson Foods terminated its contract with West Coast Farms of Okfuskee County, OK., after NBC showed a new video shot by an activist from the organization Mercy for Animals. The activist, named only as “Pete” by NBC, worked undercover as a farmhand from mid-September to mid-October for West Coast and admitted that “abuse was “commonplace and constant.” It included hitting, kicking, throwing, striking animals with the edges of wooden boards, sticking fingers in their eyes, and leaving piglets to die slowly after they were slammed into the ground “in failed euthanasia attempts.” (NBC). While criminal charges did not occur in this case, West Coast owner Lonnie Herring terminated the employees from the video and admitted that he himself could not believe the mistreatment that had taken place. (NBC). This video is also disturbing, but eye-opening and can be viewed at HERE. Tyson’s response to their second case of inhumane meat suppliers was even more severe than the previous website transformation and policies. Tyson announced new animal care guidelines for its pork suppliers a month and a half after NBC News showed the company undercover video, sending a letter to suppliers requiring that some farms stop using blunt force euthanasia to kill piglets and urging that all its suppliers keep sows in larger cages, install video cameras in sow farms, and adopt “pain mitigation” methods when castrating piglets or docking their tails. (NBC). The order to end blunt force euthanasia applies only to contract farms where Tyson owns the animals and the farm owner supplies meat to the company under contract, and all other guidelines in the letter are just condition recommendations. Tyson also recognized that these types of abusive behaviors have been common in the meat industry for a while, referring to the abuse practiced as being “historically acceptable.” However, they also recognize that these behaviors “may not match the expectations of today’s customers or consumers.” (NBC).

The letter was signed by a senior vice president at Tyson and the vice president who runs the company’s Animal Well-Being Programs, and states that Tyson’s goal is to “balance the expectations of consumers with the realities of today’s hog farming business.” (NBC). Many individuals involved are affected by the Tyson scandals. Tyson management that makes decisions, as well as its new animal rights branch, and even lower employees that handle meat are stakeholders. These employees must decided whether or not they care enough about animal rights to stop profiting from meat that comes from suppliers like Wyoming and West Coast farms. Tyson customers and consumers are also largely affected by the ethical problems of Tyson. Customers who became aware of the mistreatment may not agree with Tyson’s decisions to keep its abusive suppliers, and may switch brands. This results in a worse reputation for Tyson and less profits. Other stakeholders that are external to Tyson are also present, including the farm suppliers and activist groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society of the United States. The organizations are obviously in favor of animal rights, but the farms need to consider their own conditions and sets of values. Are these Tyson reforms enough for Tyson to retain its consumers considering their first attempts proved to be ineffective and the abuse occurred in recurring cases? Are Tyson’s claims for their own reputation and company wellbeing, or a genuine attempt to better the standards for animals raised for food?

Tyson pigs crammed into too small of areas

An individualist might try to answer these questions in favor of Tyson’s rights to obtain food from whichever suppliers they wish. The normative theory defines individualism as a collection of egoism, or selfishness, and right-based constraints. (Salazar). Simplified, this means that everyone has the right to seek their own interests, but cannot not influence, judge, or interfere with others pursuing their own interests. Now I raise the question, “Are animals counted in this group of “others” whose interests cannot be interfered with while one pursues their own goals under the definition of Individualism?” An individualist would probably not see the “rights” of the pigs, but instead see the bigger picture that Tyson’s suppliers like Wyoming and West Coast farms lead to the greatest profits for the company. “More humane handling of animals is more expensive than factory methods, although the Humane Society notes that some studies show that not using gestation crates to confine pigs can actually by eleven percent cheaper than using the extreme confinement.” (Forbes). Gestation crates that house pigs keep pregnant sows unable to ever turn around, lie down comfortably, or take more than a step forward or backward. (ALDF). These types of crates are used by the two Tyson suppliers but are defended by pork industry groups such as the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council, have come under fire by McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, Oscar Mayer, Jimmy Dean, Sysco and nearly fifty other food companies. (HSUS). However, the farms that supply Tyson maintain lower costs by using these methods of pig housing. With the suppliers’ own costs lower, they can provide food supplies to companies like Tyson for lower, more competitive prices. In result, Tyson also benefits financially from purchasing their products at lower prices in comparison to the cost of the products to their own consumers. While the 11% saving is not fact when it comes to gestation, it is fact that Tyson’s quarterly profits and shares have risen in the past year, despite the company’s involvement in the abuse cases. (Reuters). An individualist would use this as backing for the idea that Tyson is doing the right things for its own business, and other people are not negatively affected by their actions because demand and shares are still high.

Utilitarianism The theory of utilitarianism is the ethical tradition that directs people to make decisions based on the possible outcomes of their actions. (Salazar). Utilitarian values have helped shape today’s modern world, including political, economic, and public policies, and even business. It provided some of the framework for democratic policies and goes against the popular view of many “elite” citizens. The consequences of an action should result in the creating of the most good for the most people overall in order for the decision to be seen as ethical. A utilitarian would have to decide what would create the most “good” involving Tyson. Would the most good come from Tyson using its original meat suppliers, despite the abuse, to create its own hefty profits and apparently still satisfy some consumers? Or would the most good come from switching to more humane suppliers, for higher costs, but a more desirable reputation and a happier consumer world? I think a utilitarian would side against Tyson, saying that the greatest potential outcome would come from switching suppliers. Even further than good within the Tyson company, by switching, Tyson could also begin to redefine the standards for the industry of animals raised for food sources. The pigs used by Tyson, along with other animals bought by other food processing companies, could eventually all be raised more fairly and in better conditions. A utilitarian would want the company and animals to be benefitted.

Kantianism as an ethical theory differs from utilitarianism. “Unlike utilitarianism, it[Kantianism] does not ask us to maximize any particular value, it involves no complex calculations, and it does not treat groups of people as more or less valuable depending on the quantities of individuals or quality of experiences among them.” Kant’s formula of humanity states that one should treat people in a way that is valuable for one’s own sake. (Salazar). Under Kantianism, an individual should encourage and help others make the right decisions in a rational way. Tyson complied with Kantian view regarding its involvement with the two farms. Although Tyson first denied involvement with Wyoming Premium when the first video aired, they did admit to purchasing sows from the farm. (Forbes). Tyson then cut off connection to both of the suppliers that were caught for abuse. This decision can be classified as making a rational decision. Tyson also complied with Kant’s formula of humanity by treating the pigs as people to create value for the company itself. A Kantian would see Tyson’s attempts as genuine, rather than to cover factors up or to protect its reputation for the sake of saving face.

Virtue Theory
Donnie Smith, CEO of Tyson Foods
The last ethical theory is virtue theory. Virtue theory revolves around the necessities to fulfilling a good life. The virtues of courage, honesty, temperance, and justice must be honored in order for a decision to be seen as ethical under this theory. Courage is the willingness to take a stand for the right ideas and actions, honesty is treating everyone fairly and being truthful, temperance is expected reasoning, and justice is being fair and providing quality products and ideas. (Salazar). Those who believe in the virtue theory would not believe that Tyson was ethical. For Tyson to be courageous, it should have paid more serious attention to improving standards for its meat suppliers. It attempted, in part, to “sweep under the rug” the first situation by appearing to improve its policies involving safe suppliers. The policies were obviously not as effective as Tyson made them seem because a similar incident occurred again from the second supplier. Tyson was also not honest by first denying its involvement with Wyoming Farms. Temperance should have been used when Tyson was considering its customers and their wants and needs. If Tyson had used more reasoning, they would have made quality changes earlier, and implemented them more seriously, because they knew that customers did not agree with the mistreatment of animals. Customers want honest product from honest companies, especially under ethical theory. Lastly, Tyson did not achieve justice. They did not care enough about how their products were being handled and ignored the rights of the animals to be treated fairly at the same time as ignoring the rights of their customers to receive the best products. Virtue theory was failed to be achieved by Tyson Foods.

Although Tyson has taken action in regards to its meat suppliers, it is up to customers to decide whether or not these actions were the right thing. Each individual has a different view of ethics and a different set of values and what is right. Some will see Tyson’s first attempts as bogus, while other may say that Tyson has tried to make reforms since the beginning when the issue was first uncovered. Some might say that using the meat from abusive suppliers is not even an issue for the Tyson company, but only for the supply industry, and that Tyson is just trying to use the perform the most efficient and cost-saving methods of business. Others might disagree and say that Tyson is also responsible for the treatment conducted by its suppliers on the animals they will once sell as product. It does matter in all cases that Tyson has at least recognized the issues created in the scandal, and that it has at least attempted to make changes for greater overall well-being.

Investigations. (n.d.). NBC News. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from

Nine Charged with Animal Cruelty at Wyoming Pig Farm following The Humane Society of the United States' Undercover Investigation : The Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). RSS. Retrieved February 15, 2014, from

Salazar, Heather. Business Ethics Lectures. WNEU. Spring 2014.

Tyson Foods and a Culture of Cruelty. (n.d.). Animal Legal Defense Fund Tyson Foods and a Culture of Cruelty Comments. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from

UPDATE 3-Tyson results beat estimates on higher chicken, beef sales. (2014, January 31). Reuters. Retrieved February 15, 2014, from

Vinjamuri, D. (2012, May 11). Tyson Foods and Piglet Abuse: Is Ethical Behavior Profitable?. Forbes. Retrieved February 15, 2014, from

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