Friday, February 14, 2014

Tyson: Major Animal Abuse Scandals (2013)

Tyson Foods, Inc. logo
Tyson Foods, one of the nation’s largest meat producer and supplier has had to overcome a major scandal regarding animal abuse. In May of 2012, the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing a farm in Wyoming connected to Tyson was abusing piglets (Vinjamuri, 2012). The video stated, “They kicked piglets like soccer balls, whipped them around by their hind legs, smashed them into concrete floors, and threw them high into the air” (Vinjamuri, 2012). When Tyson initially released a statement about this incident, it claimed that it had no connection with the farm, but in the same statement confirmed that it had purchased sows from the farm. Tyson since has suspended its purchases from the farm until a full investigation is complete (Vinjamuri, 2012). In November 2013, a second video of a farm in Oklahoma this time by the animal activist group Mercy for Animals was released and showed animal abuse at this farm. It was announced that Tyson canceled its contract with the farm (Peterson, 2013). An activist from the Mercy for Animals group only referred to as “Pete” stated that the abuse was “commonplace and constant at West Coast Farms (Schecter, 2014). The owner of the farm, Lonnie Herring fired the employees that were shown abusing the animals in the video (Peterson, 2013). Tyson stated that they were “extremely disappointed by the mistreatment shown in the video and will not tolerate this kind of animal mishandling (Peterson, 2013). Finally, in January of 2014, Tyson sent a letter to suppliers telling them to stop using blunt force euthanasia to kill piglets and wants them to keep the animals in larger cages and install video cameras at the farms (Schecter, 2014). Tyson did this in order to show that it takes this issue seriously. Tyson stated in the letter signed by a senior vice president and the vice president who runs the company’s Animal Well-Being Programs; “we’re trying to balance the expectations of consumers with the realities of today’s hog farming business” (Schecter, 2014). Tyson is trying to make sure that everyone realizes that it wants things to change and agrees that animals should be treated fairly. Animal abuse is punishable by law and many activist groups have stated that those that participated in this should be prosecuted (Pacelle, 2012). These groups feel that what these farms are doing to animals is wrong and Tyson should be responsible for knowing what is happening at the farms that it does business with (Pacelle, 2012). All in all, Tyson clearly did business with farms that were being cruel to animals, tried to hide the information and did not take any real action until two years after the original issue. The videos can be viewed at the following links: Video # 1 and Video #2. WARNING: The videos include graphic and sometimes bloody scenes. It shows pigs being kicked, hit, and thrown, as well as pigs being slammed into the floor to kill them.

StakeholdersIn this situation, there are several stakeholders. The stakeholders are Tyson, the farms in Wyoming and Oklahoma, Tyson’s customers and the activist groups that exposed the animal abuse. Tyson chooses which farms it wants to do business with and therefore needs to know what the current practices of the farms are. The two farms are responsible for taking care of the animals that they are selling to Tyson and should be doing so with respect. Tyson’s customers might want to know where their food comes from and learning about how the animals are treated, they might be swayed to purchase another brand instead of Tyson. Finally, the activist groups make sure that animals are treated fairly and with respect. They are trying to look out for animals and make sure every animal is not abused. Each stakeholder plays an important role in this case and each stakeholder can affect one another.

Each of the ethical theories: individualism, utilitarianism, Kantianism and virtue theory can help see whether or not Tyson acted ethically. In this case, Tyson acted ethically according to the individualism and Kantianism theory but acted unethically according to the other two theories.

Pig in a small cage, bleeding and desperate to be free
According to Friedman’s theory of individualism, the only goal of a business is to maximize its profit for the owners and its stakeholders as long as everything it is not doing anything illegal (Salazar). Companies like Tyson are in a highly competitive market and need to find ways to keep costs as low as possible. Tyson knows that if it charges more to buy their products than it will most likely sell less. There are conflicting stories that say whether more humane animal treatments are more or less expensive than factory methods (Vinjamuri, 2012). Some studies done by the Humane Society of the United States had shown that treating animals better can actually be 11% cheaper (Vinjamuri, 2012). Even though this is shown in some studies, most state that this is not the case (Vinjamuri, 2012). Tyson has stated that quarterly profits have grown more than Wall Street expected, with shares up nearly 10 percent (Reuters, 2014). Tyson has said demand has risen for beef and chicken sales continue to soar (Reuters, 2014). All in all, Tyson’s shares have gone up more than 50 percent in the past year (Reuters, 2014). This shows that Tyson has continued to maximize its profits even through these problems. Tyson has helped both itself and its own stakeholders because its stock has continued to rise. Therefore, when looking at what Tyson actions through the theory of individualism related to this case, its actions would be considered to be ethical.

UtilitarianismA second ethical theory is utilitarianism which states that one needs to maximize happiness in oneself and in others (Salazar). Utilitarianism says that happiness is the only thing of value. In Tyson’s situation, it had to decide whether it should be happy for itself by being profitable, whether it should treat the animals fairly and make everyone else happy or some combination of both. Tyson chose to only maximize its own happiness and not worry about anyone else. Tyson wanted to make sure it could get its product out at a low price in order to continue to be a leader as a meat producer. Unfortunately for Tyson, it did not maximize happiness for everyone as the piglets had to suffer by being abused and mistreated. Therefore, Tyson’s actions would be viewed as unethical in the utilitarian view.

The next ethical theory is Kantianism. This theory is described as acting rationally, allow and help people to make rational decisions, respect the individual needs and differences of everyone and be motivated to do what is right because it is right. In addition, Kant’s formula of humanity states that one should act in a way to treat humanity in a way that is valuable for one’s own sake and never simply as a way to get something else (Salazar). In other words, one should always act fairly and not try to trick anyone. When applying this to the Tyson case, it is clear Tyson did act in this way. In the case of the farm in Wyoming, Tyson originally stated that there was no connection, but it had purchased from this farm. When looking at the farm in Oklahoma, Tyson never denied any connection to the farm. In both situations, Tyson stopped further business with the two farms. Tyson acted rationally by making the farms it does business with changing its practices. Therefore, since Tyson has acted rationally and has not deliberately tried to cover up this issue; a Kantian would view this situation as ethical.

Virtue Theory
Another view of the small pig pens
The final ethical theory is virtue theory. Virtue theory seeks a full description of the virtues that constitute a good human life. The virtues are dependent on the thing’s function and circumstances. There are four main virtues in business which are courage, honesty, temperance and justice. Courage is the willingness to take a stand for the right ideas and actions. Honesty is treating everyone fairly and being truthful to all. Temperance is expected reasonable things and justice is being fair and providing good ideas and quality products (Salazar). Tyson did not follow these virtues in this situation. In order to be courageous, Tyson would have had to take a stand and tell all the farms it deals with immediately to treat animals fairly. Tyson did not do this because it waited for two years until it finally sent a letter out telling farms to change its ways. Tyson should have been honest right away when the allegations of animal abuse came out. Instead of saying there was no connection with the farm, it should have just stated right away that it had purchased from the farm and that it was connected to it. In order to act with temperance, Tyson should know that its customers would want their products to be produced in a respectable way. Tyson does not do this as it shows it did not care about what its farm was doing by not issuing any statements until two years after the original allegation. The final virtue of justice would be followed if the products that Tyson made were quality products and everyone was treated fairly. Tyson did not do this because the animals were mistreated at all times and were constantly abused in numerous ways. By not following any of these virtues, Tyson was acting unethically according to the virtue theory.

Pacelle, W. (2012, May 8). Abhorrent Abuse of Mother Pigs and Piglets Uncovered at Tyson Foods Supplier. A Humane Nation. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

Peterson, H. (2013, November 22). Tyson Foods Drops Pig Farm Over Video Of Alleged Animal Abuse. Business Insider. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

Reuters. (2014, January 31). UPDATE 3-Tyson results beat estimates on higher chicken, beef sales. Reuters. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

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

Schecter, A. (2014, January 10). Tyson Foods changes pig care policies after NBC shows undercover video. NBC News. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

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

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