Ethics have a place within every aspect of society, whether that be in business, non-profits, or a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. One lives their life based on a set of their own moral codes. A company is no different, specifically Tyson Foods. Tyson Foods is one of the largest meat corporations in the world, meaning the way this mega-company’s values on ethics in the public sector is incredibly important. The way Tyson unethically handles the animals it slaughters and the environment affected by those animals becomes a standard for the rest of the industry. In this paper, I am analyzing Tyson Foods and demonstrating how their unethical treatment of animals affects the environment surrounding them, while also offering instances of ethical behavior that Tyson could adopt in its process.
A productive place to begin is with the simplest question: what are ethics? A simple Google search defines them as “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.” While this seems simple on the surface, there is more to this definition than meets the eye. Living by one’s own “moral principles” generally only impacts that person’s life and daily interactions. Where it begins to get more complex is when one delves into the “group’s behavior.” A moral compass that applies to a group of people is automatically more vulnerable to the capricious minds of group members. While a group may begin with one moral or ethical stance, time, money and a changing of people tend to shuffle it along to something entirely different. This most certainly pertains to businesses.
A business’s daily runnings are all deeply connected to the ethics of the company itself. While it would be easiest to say that every business remains within the ethical codes originally set, daily life and happenings tend to get in the way. As Peter Singer says in his book Practical Ethics, “people sometimes believe that ethics is inapplicable to the real world because they assume that ethics is a system of short and simple rules…simple rules conflict…and can lead to a disaster” (2). Singer is saying that strictly staying within one set of rules cannot always lead a group or company to the most favorable outcome. Companies, regardless of their product or mission, need room to grow and evolve within an ever-changing world.
Businesses founded in the early to mid 20th century cannot have the same goals as those established closer to modern day. While the general ethical dilemmas of “Do not lie, Do not steal and Do not kill” apply to any time period, other more specific moral commands are not as clear cut (2). Environmental awareness, while acknowledged in the earlier 20th century, has become much more prevalent in the last ten years of the 21st. This is an example of a time specific issue. Another modern day ethical issues is the happiness of animals in farms. Mara Miele states in her paper The taste of happiness: free-range chicken that “at the beginning of the 21st-century animal’s emotions have been made ‘visible’ to [the] public” (2076). This evolution that chickens must be happy to produce a better, tastier meat has taken root all over the world. This relates directly to Tyson Foods.
Tyson Foods is the largest protein company in the world. When walking down the frozen food aisle of the supermarket, the bright red box of Tyson chicken nuggets calls out with a delicious picture on the cover. As Singer writes in his other book, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, “since food ethics has been such a neglected topic in our culture, it is quite likely that otherwise good people are making bad choices in this area simply because…[they] do not have access to the information they need” (6). Because the uneducated consumer does not have “access to the information they need,” they assume that the chicken was killed on some picturesque farm after living a normal lifestyle. This is not the case. Tyson has been accused of animal abuse and cruelty many times. PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, conducted investigations into a slaughterhouse in Heflin, Alabama. The horrendous practices seen in this one Tyson slaughterhouse are enough to scare people from eating chicken ever again. But let’s start at the beginning.
Tyson Foods began in the early 1930’s when founder John Tyson moved his family to Arkansas for the job of delivering chickens. As World War II started, rations were placed on various types of food, but not poultry. Tyson started a business of selling chickens, and from there it expanded. By the 1970’s, Tyson was producing mass amounts of frozen chicken to different regions of the country. This company wanted the public to perceive it as a company with values. Tyson began from humble beginnings, so their ultimate marketing goal was to show a company essentially living the American dream, making it from rags to riches without losing sight of where it began. On Tyson’s homepage, carefully selected images of farms with large amounts of space for the chickens to live in are shown on a continuous loop. Illustrations of red barns with green pastures are used to portray the farm life, with bullet points reading “Healthy chicks and nutritious feed delivered to Family Farmers” and “Service technicians and veterinarians monitor flocks and purchased livestock closely.” If a consumer exclusively viewed Tyson’s homepage for information on the company, they would never reconsider the actual well-being of the chicken in the nuggets they are eating (Tyson’s Homepage).
Today, Tyson is the number one producer of meat in the world. It not only sells chicken products, but beef, pork, and other non-meat products as well. This once modest company has become a powerhouse. How then, are we supposed to believe that their treatment of animals on a large scale can be ethical? In the paper Farm Animals and Their Welfare in 2000, authors David Fraser, Joy Mench and Susanne Millman state, “broiler chicken are housed in large groups (usually tens of thousands) in either completely or partially enclosed buildings” (90). Housing “tens of thousands of chickens” in any confined space, whether it be “completely or partially enclosed” can never been seen as ethically sound. If humans were forced to live with thousands of people in one enclosure, there would be major uproar and armies and rescue crews would be sent in immediately to right the wrongs of that situation. Val Plumwood explains exactly why this an acceptable scenario 45with animals in his book Feminism and the Mastery of Nature when he says, “animals themselves have only the lower of bodily grade of sensation and ‘lead their lives merely by physical movements’” (115). What Plumwood is saying is that humans deem it acceptable to subject animals to below standard living conditions because “they lead their lives merely by physical movements.” Plumwood does not believe that animals have the brain capacity to think. Plumwood states, “thinking…which appears to bridge the mind/body and human/animal division” (115).
Animals live entire lifetimes kept in dirty, smelly buildings because they are deemed below humans. Referring back to what was stated earlier, PETA conducted an undercover investigation in a slaughterhouse in Heflin, Alabama to document the unethical treatment of the animals kept there. PETA found, “a supervisor telling [them] that it was acceptable to rip the heads off live birds who had been improperly shackled by the head.” Furthermore, “the killing-machine blade often cut birds bodies instead of their throats…[supervisors] offered no solution, instead blaming the problem on the ‘nature of the machines.’” Who would eat chicken nuggets knowing the meat supplied in this delicious morsel was so poorly treated in its short, caged life? This example shows that no attention was given to ethics or morals, rather efficiency and numbers. There is a branch of consumerism labeled ethical consumerism that describes buyers who only consume foods and products that have been ethically produced. Unfortunately, this type of consumerism is not in the majority, yet (enough.org.uk).
Another ethical dilemma related to Tyson Foods is their environmental standards. Water sentinels are outlets of water, such as rivers or streams, and are plentiful in America. They are, however, becoming more and more polluted because of runoff from factory farms like Tyson. Tyson could be defined as concentrated animal feeding operations, or a CAFO. Because these farms house so many animals in such close quarters, there are exponential amounts of manure and waste leftover. This waste is placed in what are called “lagoons” for housing. The earth is very porous, meaning the chemicals from this waste seeps into the ground and contaminates ground water, while natural occurrences like rain wash the waste into the nearby water sentinels. This waste is riddled with chemicals that should not be going into natural ecosystems like these waterways. Tyson Foods and similar companies absolutely know about the runoff and the ramifications it poses to the ecosystems surrounding their CAFO’s, yet do not strive to make monumental changes. The thought of money and efficient production clouds the ethics behind that operation. There are, however, alternatives to this harmful process.
Sustainable farming has been around since humans began working the earth thousands of years ago. Before genetically modified plants and chemical pesticides, farmers integrated their animals into their agriculture. As seen in Food Inc. on Polyface Farms, chickens and cows eat the grass and overturn the land just by grazing on it. The cow’s manure can then be used to fertilize the fields. This holistic process is ethical, moral, sanitary, and an ideal way to conduct any type of farming. It is not, however, as fast or efficient as mass production. Tyson Foods is not a company that focuses on what is ethically right when it comes to the treatment of it’s animals or the environment affected by them. It is motivated by money, and as the largest firm in the world, they have no motivation to change their ways. This is especially detrimental to the public view on ethics concerning animal treatment and the environment because Tyson has so much control over the protein industry. Even with the small-scale efforts of local farms raising their meat in an ethical manner, the market will be flooded with companies like Tyson until they decide to make a change.
Fraser, David, Joy Mench, and Suzanne Millman. “Farm animals and their welfare in 2000.”
Lowry, Elizabeth, and Mara Miele. “The taste of happiness: Free-range chicken.” Environment and Planning A 43 (2011): 2076-2090.
Singer, Peter. Practical ethics. Cambridge university press, 2011.
Singer, Peter, and Jim Mason. The ethics of what we eat: Why our food choices matter. Rodale, 2007.
Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.
“ENOUGH, ANTI-CONSUMERISM CAMPAIGN.” ENOUGH, ANTI-CONSUMERISM CAMPAIGN. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
“Water Sentinels: Factory Farms.” Factory Farms. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
“Tyson Foods: Heritage.” Tyson Foods: Heritage. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
“Tyson Workers Torturing Birds, Urinating on Slaughter Line.” PETA. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.