No one has ever accused Tyson Foods of being green.
Even as the Springdale, Arkansas-based meat giant�s
probation ends for 20 federal violations of the Clean Water Act at its Sedalia,
Missouri, chicken plant in 2003 -- it paid a $7.7 million fine -- it is back in
In an unfolding trial in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tyson is accused
by the state of Oklahoma, along with Cargill, Inc., and a dozen other poultry
companies, of violating state and federal laws limiting the disposal of animal
waste in the Illinois River watershed.
Tyson and the other accused companies treat Oklahoma's rivers,
"like open sewers," says state Attorney General Drew Edmondson,
dumping into the watershed in one year the amount of phosphorous that would be
generated by 10.7 million people.
But Tyson has more troubles than being on the wrong side of
the Clean Water Act.
Last July, it was fined $339,500 by the US Department of
Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration for "serious,
willful, repeat and other-than-serious violations of safety and health
standards" at its Noel, Missouri, plant.
In January, it settled a financial wrongdoing suit brought
by Tyson shareholders and Amalgamated Bank that charged it with spring-loading
options -- a maneuver similar to backdating -- for $4.5 million.
And then there�s production.
Tyson had planned to capitalize on the $13 billion natural
foods market, oxymoron aside, by marketing chicken "raised without
antibiotics" and even launched its web site and PR machinery.
But the Department of Agriculture ruled the ionophores Tyson
uses in chicken production are antibiotics
over Tyson protests that ionophores don�t cause human antibiotic resistance and
the venture went nowhere.
This year it announced the closure of a 400-employee
Wilkesboro, NC chicken plant -- "Growing consumer demand for ready-to-eat
foods" has edged out "refrigerated, oven roasted chicken," it
says -- and the end of slaughter operations at its 1,700-employee Emporia,
Kansas, beef plant. Two years ago it shuttered slaughter plants in Boise,
Idaho, and West Point, Nebraska.
Of course it is no secret that it�s hard to find legal
workers for meat plant jobs.
But in 2001 a federal grand jury charged Tyson with actually
operating an elaborate illegal worker smuggling scheme -- paying undercover
agents for delivery of workers to Tyson plants across the country and providing
them with fake Social Security and other identification cards. Tyson allegedly
even paid smugglers, who helped aliens across the Rio Grande, with corporate
checks, according to the 57-page indictment.
But Tyson was found not guilty.
Nor did charges brought by employees Birda Trollinger,
Robert Martinez, Tabetha Edding and Doris Jewell that Tyson violated the
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by knowingly hiring
illegal immigrants who were willing to work for wages below those acceptable to
Americans stick the following year.
"This is a company with a bad history," the Rev.
Jim Lewis, an Episcopal minister in Arkansas, told the New York Times.
"They cheat these workers out of pay and benefits, and then try to keep
them quiet by threatening to send them back to Mexico."
Of course there�s something worse than illegal employees: undercover
In December 2004 and February 2005, an undercover investigator with
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) gained employment at
Tyson�s Heflin, Alabama, chicken plant and videotaped workers ripping off
chickens� heads manually, malfunctioning throat-cutting machines which
mutilated birds and a plant manager saying it was acceptable if up to 40 birds
per shift were scalded alive.
Two years late,r undercover employees at Tyson�s Cumming,
Georgia, and Union City, Tennessee, plants documented additional atrocities and
workers urinating in the live-hang area.
Tyson responded by firing several workers at the Cumming and
Union City plants -- it wouldn�t say how many or if any were managers -- and
disciplining and retraining others in animal welfare.
But the 2003 disclosures of its own employee, Virgil Butler,
who worked at its Grannis, Arkansas, plant for
five years suggested a pattern of abuse. Butler described birds scalded alive,
left to freeze to death and exploded with dry ice by employees for their
Some say Tyson�s "Teflon" conviction history
bespeaks friends in high places.
Who can forget the charges that it bribed Agriculture
Secretary Mike Espy with gifts to influence legislation in 1997, leading to his
resignation in disgrace? Tyson paid $6 million to settle the accusations, but
the two convicted Tyson executives facing prison time were pardoned by Clinton.
But Tyson officials see it differently.
"If we've got all this political power, how come the
government keeps doing this to us?" asked former chief marketing officer
Now Tyson is capitalizing on unmet demand for chicken in
China by opening Jiangsu Tyson Foods in Haiman City, near Shanghai, which will
produce 400,000 birds a week at first with plans to increase production to 1
million birds a week.
Richard Bond, Tyson's president and chief executive, says
the company intends to become, "the first producer to deliver brand name,
high quality fresh chicken to consumers in the eastern China market."
Nor does it expect regulatory problems.
Martha Rosenberg is
staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at email@example.com.