Factory farms have been blamed for all kinds of problems – from the treatment of the animals they raise and slaughter to the pollution they create to the safety of the meat they produce. But investigative reporter Christopher Leonard zeroes in on another problem: Over the last 40 years, they’ve become near monopolies.
Today, 4 companies buy 85 percent of the country’s cattle raised for beef to supply their slaughterhouses, and 2 companies control about 40 percent of the country’s poultry market. 90 percent of independent US hog farms disappeared in the 1990’s, as large companies began building a network of contract factory hog farms. "There are virtually no small, independent slaughterhouses anymore."
Tyson Foods, which controls 22 percent of the poultry industry, pioneered their approach to production in the deep South back in the 1940’s. They pay farmers to raise the chickens, but the company owns all aspects of chicken production including the feedmill, the feedhouse, the hatchery, and the processing plant.
Leonard says, "The problems here are anti-trust problems." He explains, "A hundred years ago, we weren’t blaming oil consumers for what Standard Oil was doing, and we weren’t asking oil consumers to buy from the local Mom and Pop oil people. I mean, it’s not necessarily consumers’ fault that we’ve let consolidation go to such high levels."
Christopher Leonard is the author of The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business.