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Lumbering Chicken Giant Wants More, More, More

November 18, 2008

By David Thier

jrknjgd31It’s good to see that even in the midst of this global financial crisis, strong men like Don Tyson are still doing their best to destroy the world. Tyson, founder and controlling shareholder of Tyson Foods, is the meat magnate that brought us such amazing developments as complete vertical integration on factory farms and “Mr. McDonald,” the grotesque and deformed bird that allows the chicken mcnugget. He’s sat comfortably as the provider of choice for chains like McDonald’s and one of the country’s biggest food producers for a while now, but that’s not enough for him.

Ramping commodity prices as a result of biofuels and more expensive oil has hit the U.S. meat industry hard, but Tyson is bold enough to look past the US. “We’ve done about as much in the United States as we can do,” he told AP. He’s looking south, and he’s getting hungry. With middle classes in countries like Brazil, India and China beginning to have the means to start rolling up to drive through windows,Tyson wants to begin exporting the U.S. paradigm of factory-farmed meat abroad. Grist reminds us that the vast amounts of cheap labor and lax environmental regulations of some of these countries are nothing if not a plus for developing giant CAFO operations. He’s already begun making his move, reports AP:

Tyson announced three joint ventures in China this year, including last month’s purchase of a 60 percent share of Shandong Xinchang Group’s poultry operations. It also purchased the majority interest in chicken processing plants in Zhucheng and Shandong, and majority interest in a poultry operation being developed in Haimen City near Shanghai.

In India, Tyson bought a 51 percent ownership of Godrej Foods, Ltd., based in Mumbai. The joint venture will be called Godrej Tyson Foods and is expected to have annual sales of about $50 million.

Despite a terrible year for his chicken business and an only alright year for beef and pork, Tyson shows a terminator-like determination for exporting unhealthy and environmentally damaging foods worldwide. Obesity is already climbing steadily in the developing world, and offering up the same food system that did so well in America is sure to only exacerbate the problem. Add to that the massive amounts of fossil fuels that would be required to run American-style CAFOs in the rest of the world, and you develop a ramping global warming problem at a time when public discourse has decided that that’s a bad thing.

The environmental impossibility of countries like India and China developing along massively consumptive, Western lines is the topic of much brow-furrowing these days, but there seems to be a horrible disconnect between those that acknowledge the problem and those that just don’t give a shit. There are still people like Don Tyson that can look a factory-farmed chicken in the face and say “great!” My boss tries to get me to be less ridiculous sometimes, but honestly, when do we break out the molotovs?

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