The Stranglehold of Industrial Farming

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

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.


Christopher Leonard

Comments [20]

Peg small farmer from Finger Lakes

Folks you can help stimulate the small farm economy.
1 Buy a freezer
2 Go to craigslist farm and garden or contact your local cooperative extension-4H program to locate a source for farm raised meat. (County/State Fairs are also a great place to meet farmers and get leads on healthy meat)
3 Take 1/2 day to drive and pick up your order (some farms can even ship to you)
4 Load your freezer
5 Reorder when you run out

All of this takes less time than constantly shopping at a grocery and the meat is better and cheaper

Mar. 06 2014 12:51 PM
Ishmael from Queen's, NY

We do have choices, at least we 'still' have some choices. The first choice is to not buy from these powerful companies. Support your local farmer - but make sure that the farmer is following 'healthy' practices. Government has supported and promoted terrible business practices for the last 50 years - ultimately we have monopolies and banks controlling the economy in our country. Monsanto will be the death of us - globally. And why should China have anything to do with our food? What is that??? Why are we outsourcing food? Processed in China? A country without regulations - a country that treats people inhumanely? Really? All for profit - at a terrible cost to us. That's what needs to be stopped. How many billionaires should the people of our country support? Don't buy Purdue or Tyson. Don't buy any food that's been processed outside,our country. Demand that businesses be supported and developed here. Build a processing plant in Detroit! Care about what we eat and how we live.

Mar. 06 2014 08:23 AM
David from Saugerties, NY

The real issue is the increased demand for animal flesh as the population continues to expand. I don't just mean here in the US either. China and India are major players. This brings me to the lack of efficiency, impact on the environment as well as the well known health effects that animal agriculture bring to the table. With companies like Beyond Meat, Field Roast, Daiya and many more; we can have the pleasure of consuming "meat and dairy" without using animals as the filter between plant and food. These companies are revolutionizing the way we think about plant based or Vegan foods. This may very well be the direction we all have to go if we want our grandchildren to have a planet that is inhabitable.

Mar. 06 2014 08:09 AM
KatKarma from NJ

The main issue isn't the conditions in factory farms, but the underlying cause - big corporations buying up small farms. Tyson buys meat from the small farms but the farms have to follow Tyson's rules. Farms that do well, sometimes by luck, are paid more and those who don't produce are fired. Many small farms have gone under thanks to the business practices of Tyson, Purdue and the like because there are no other companies or outlets to sell to. This program is worth listening to through the end. The US beat the meat monopolies at the turn of the last century. This needs to happen again. These companies are getting away with murder, making a fortune and ruining lives.

Mar. 05 2014 07:53 PM

Big Agribusinesses seem more adept at directing government farm welfare programs to themselves, than are small farmers.

Mar. 05 2014 02:04 PM

i guess its obvious, or perhaps naive, to suggest non-participation in this horror by not eating animals? Opt out of the cruel and barbaric supply chain. Find protein from other sources.

Mar. 05 2014 02:01 PM

Government inspections and paperwork requirements hamper small farmers more than big Agribusinesses.
Agribusinesses often get exemptions to the most onerous requirements.

Mar. 05 2014 02:00 PM

Government inspections and paperwork requirements hamper small farmers more than big Agribusinesses.
Agribusinesses often get exemptions to the most onerous requirements.

Mar. 05 2014 01:58 PM

Governments are passing laws against local slaughter by farmers of chickens and another animals, under more humane and sanitary conditions than the factories.

Mar. 05 2014 01:56 PM
Lin from NYC

Just want to add that chickens are
intelligent too. You mentioned this
re pigs. They suffer from their
terrible conditions too.

Mar. 05 2014 01:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Do Tyson's horrible contracts w/farmers spell out the conditions that cause so many to lose their farms, or is there a case to be made that they're fraudulent?

Mar. 05 2014 01:51 PM

I have no problem using the term 'illegal immigrant' in regards to the food industry's use of undocumented workers. How does the industry get away with hiring these workers? Shouldn't there be some form of sanction against them?

I would care if you used the word 'illegal' in regard to their status as a person in our nation. We have no law against your being in the nation (yet). And I have a big problem when folks use the term 'illegals' as a shorthand for the illegal immigrants entire existence.

Lastly, I am concerned with the genetic variety of the stocks that make the best factory animals - chickens, pigs, and now beef. How susceptible are they to sickness and disease. By avoiding the variety, are we developing a strain of animal THAT REQUIRES our intervention with drugs and antibiotics in order to survive? The American potato industry - most of the output goes to French fries - has this problem. How do we avoid it in our farm animals.

Mar. 05 2014 01:49 PM

The pigs are kept immobile virtually their entire lives; the chickens too, and now regulating will be taken over by the industry, so filthy that employees are at risk from the spray. The sick cattle are already consumed. It is enough to make one vegetarian - vegan, as the ancillary activities and practices are abhorrent. The anti-biotics pumped up are ramping us up for a calamity. The effluent in the areas of these facilities is horrific, yet people in the area are afraid to talk. Monstrous ramifications.

Mar. 05 2014 01:45 PM
Maryann Loiacono from Highland, NY

I remember seeing a "60 Minutes" piece, probably 20 years ago, showing deplorable conditions in Tyson chicken "farm factories" and have avoided their label since. But I guess the reading the label isn't enough. I try to buy local chicken that says "no hormones, antibiotics, etc". Then there's the processing in China of chicken pieces. Trying to do the right/healthy thing can become overwhelming! Most of my friends don't even try.

Mar. 05 2014 01:43 PM
wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

How does this industrialization of farming effect the animals?

Mar. 05 2014 01:34 PM

A better way to raise chickens:

Mar. 05 2014 01:33 PM
el from long beach ny

What about kosher chickens?

Mar. 05 2014 01:30 PM
JustMeLaura from Maplewood, NJ

What is the difference between a slaughterhouse and a packing company? I own a small restaurant and get some of our meat from a local packing company that does slaughter most of their products.

Mar. 05 2014 01:29 PM

Tyson was reported to distribute Cocaine around the US on their chicken trucks. See:
"The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories" by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Oct 1, 1997)
Perhaps that contributed to their profits.

Mar. 05 2014 01:28 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

What does Mr. Leonard think of so called Ag-Gag legislation, forbidding the recording of the mass suffering at industrial factory farms? Does he have an opinion on the "improvements" mandated by Proposition 2 in California, for the housing of laying hens? (New York Times 3/4/2014 page 1). Does he think that other states who export eggs to Ca. will be forced to abide by these changes?

Mar. 04 2014 10:11 PM

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