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An investigative journalist takes you inside the corporate meat industry—a shocking, in-depth report every American should read. The biggest takeover in American business that you’ve n ever heard of The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion. The rotisserie chicken, the pepperoni, the co An investigative journalist takes you inside the corporate meat industry—a shocking, in-depth report every American should read. The biggest takeover in American business that you’ve n ever heard of The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion. The rotisserie chicken, the pepperoni, the cordon bleu, the frozen pot pie, and the bacon virtually all come from four companies. In The Meat Racket, investigative reporter Christopher Leonard delivers the first-ever account of how a handful of companies have seized the nation’s meat supply. He shows how they built a system that puts farmers on the edge of bankruptcy, charges high prices to consumers, and returns the industry to the shape it had in the 1900s before the meat monopolists were broken up. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the greatest capitalist country in the world has an oligarchy controlling much of the food we eat and a high-tech sharecropping system to make that possible. Forty years ago, more than thirty-six companies produced half of all the chicken Americans ate. Now there are only three that make that amount, and they control every aspect of the process, from the egg to the chicken to the chicken nugget. These companies are even able to raise meat prices for consumers while pushing down the price they pay to farmers. And tragically, big business and politics have derailed efforts to change the system. We know that it takes big companies to bring meat to the American table. What The Meat Racket shows is that this industrial system is rigged against all of us. In that sense, Leonard has exposed our heartland’s biggest scandal.


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An investigative journalist takes you inside the corporate meat industry—a shocking, in-depth report every American should read. The biggest takeover in American business that you’ve n ever heard of The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion. The rotisserie chicken, the pepperoni, the co An investigative journalist takes you inside the corporate meat industry—a shocking, in-depth report every American should read. The biggest takeover in American business that you’ve n ever heard of The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion. The rotisserie chicken, the pepperoni, the cordon bleu, the frozen pot pie, and the bacon virtually all come from four companies. In The Meat Racket, investigative reporter Christopher Leonard delivers the first-ever account of how a handful of companies have seized the nation’s meat supply. He shows how they built a system that puts farmers on the edge of bankruptcy, charges high prices to consumers, and returns the industry to the shape it had in the 1900s before the meat monopolists were broken up. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the greatest capitalist country in the world has an oligarchy controlling much of the food we eat and a high-tech sharecropping system to make that possible. Forty years ago, more than thirty-six companies produced half of all the chicken Americans ate. Now there are only three that make that amount, and they control every aspect of the process, from the egg to the chicken to the chicken nugget. These companies are even able to raise meat prices for consumers while pushing down the price they pay to farmers. And tragically, big business and politics have derailed efforts to change the system. We know that it takes big companies to bring meat to the American table. What The Meat Racket shows is that this industrial system is rigged against all of us. In that sense, Leonard has exposed our heartland’s biggest scandal.

30 review for The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    “Consumers pay more, farmers make less, and corporations in the middle grab a windfall.” “…the bank extended the mortgages and car loans to the lower-income workers at Tyson’s plant. It provided farm loans to the company’s chicken farmers. The plant workers never really jumped an income bracket. The farmers never really left their cycle of indebtedness. People might complain, but there really wasn’t an alternative.”That pretty much sums up the story of The Meat Racket, a remarkably well-written, “Consumers pay more, farmers make less, and corporations in the middle grab a windfall.” “…the bank extended the mortgages and car loans to the lower-income workers at Tyson’s plant. It provided farm loans to the company’s chicken farmers. The plant workers never really jumped an income bracket. The farmers never really left their cycle of indebtedness. People might complain, but there really wasn’t an alternative.”That pretty much sums up the story of The Meat Racket, a remarkably well-written, skillfully woven story by Christopher Leonard about how Tyson Foods has forever changed the landscape of meat production and processing, farming and, more importantly, rural America. Although it focuses primarily on Tyson, the practices it pioneered have been replicated by its three other major “competitors”—which Leonard shows is a veiled form of collusion. Having recently read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, I find that Leonard’s reporting provides a case study of how one small segment of the one percent have manipulated the economic and social game to the detriment of so many and so much. This is a dispiriting account that once again highlights the timidity of the Obama administration to address fundamental societal questions when confronted by highly sophisticated, well-funded corporate interests. This is a story of interest to more people than just Americans. These practices are expanding to Brazil, China, India and other nations to feed much of the developed and developing world with a lot of obesity-causing food.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Fast Food Nation made many people aware of the dangers of our current food system to consumers. The Meat Racket uncovers and explains the development of monopoly in the American meat industry that has largely destroyed the independent family farm level control of meat production. Through careful and thorough research, Leonard is able to explain how a few large companies, led by Tyson in the poultry industry and followed by Smithland and a few others in the pork and beef industries, have entrappe Fast Food Nation made many people aware of the dangers of our current food system to consumers. The Meat Racket uncovers and explains the development of monopoly in the American meat industry that has largely destroyed the independent family farm level control of meat production. Through careful and thorough research, Leonard is able to explain how a few large companies, led by Tyson in the poultry industry and followed by Smithland and a few others in the pork and beef industries, have entrapped farmers into contract farming that makes them basically powerless employees in vertically integrated production. The meat we buy at the grocery store may have labels that imply different companies produce and market it, but, in fact, most of the meat we eat is produced by a few companies through a system that bankrupts farmers and limits our choices as consumers.Leonard uses lots of examples but he is also careful to demonstrate that his examples are representative of what is happening across the nation. I thought I was well informed on this topic, but Leonard's book clarifies food production trends that are troubling for consumers and farmers alike.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Rhaven

    Christopher Leonard certainly did his homework. This book is also extremely well written. It is obvious that Leonard is intelligent. I learned a lot while reading this book and went over a lot that I already know. I know that Tyson owned chickens, but I guess I never really thought about pigs and cows in that area. I mean I did, but I didn't think there were Tyson owned, but I really wasn't surprised at all. Tyson is this huge soulless company, who just destroy everything that it touches; people, Christopher Leonard certainly did his homework. This book is also extremely well written. It is obvious that Leonard is intelligent. I learned a lot while reading this book and went over a lot that I already know. I know that Tyson owned chickens, but I guess I never really thought about pigs and cows in that area. I mean I did, but I didn't think there were Tyson owned, but I really wasn't surprised at all. Tyson is this huge soulless company, who just destroy everything that it touches; people, companies, farms, animals, ect. Most of this book made my stomach hurt based on cold hard facts about what happened to America's food system. We are not eating food anymore we are eating food-like products, and that is so sickening.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tierney

    5 stars for fine business journalism. Every person who lives in America and buys foods and pays taxes should read this excellent piece of investigative business journalism. It introduces you to members (and former members) of the disappearing breed known as independent farmers (that became producers) and the tycoons that took over hatchery and meatpacking operations and transformed the competitive open-market system for selling farmed animals into an anti-competitive, super-high production contra 5 stars for fine business journalism. Every person who lives in America and buys foods and pays taxes should read this excellent piece of investigative business journalism. It introduces you to members (and former members) of the disappearing breed known as independent farmers (that became producers) and the tycoons that took over hatchery and meatpacking operations and transformed the competitive open-market system for selling farmed animals into an anti-competitive, super-high production contract system in which a handful of vertically integrated mega-corporations set the price and control every aspect of so-called production. The author shines a light on the shrewd and disturbing practices and maneuvers of business entrepreneurs like the Tyson dynasty (chief architect of the industrial animal production business model) that built those mega-corporations using tax loopholes, farm bill opportunities and independent farmers (producers), frequently bankrupting the latter in the process. Discover how quickly farms became factories. And how big agribusiness effectively played the political game to stop efforts to reform the system and help small farmers. Long-term perspectives also elucidate the issues. For example: “In the 1930s chicken had been a luxury dish. When [then-President] Herbert Hoover talked about putting a chicken in every pot, he meant that every American family would achieve a certain measure of alluence. But Don Tyson had seen firsthand how the new model of chicken farming had changed that. The big chicken houses, the mechanized slaughterhouses, the advanced breeding, had all come together to make chicken the cheapest meat available. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King couldn’t afford to keep it out of their product lines. Don Tyson would make sure of it.” Advanced breeding techniques to “create the ideal industrial animal”: In 1925, it took 15 weeks to raise a chicken that weighed 2.2 pounds. By 1990, it took only about 4 weeks. Notes taken while reading: The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business by Christopher Leonard Tyson complex Waldron Ark. Provides the tax base for towns it overran. Vertical integration: economic principle buy up firms that supply them. Pharma, trucking. Tyson controls and owns everything that happens inside the corporation. No free market determines price at which baby chicks sold to farmer or at what price grown chickens are sold back to a slaughterhouse. Poultry to hogs, within 2 decades America’s independent hog industry was wiped out and replaced with a vertically integrated, corporate-controlled model. Less money for farmers. Now cattle industry buckling under pressure. 1960s to 90s industrial meat machine benefit to Am consumers, Tyson’s system rewrote the biological equations that once constrained the meat industry. Between 1955 and 1982, the amount of time it took to raise a full-grown chicken fell from 73 days to 52 days. And the chickens got bigger, expanding from an av 3.1 pounds to 4 lbs. ANd took less and less chicken feed each year to accomplish this feat Trend also for pigs and to a lesser degree, cattle. Cheaper meat. Growth hormone Zilmax cattle put weight on much faster. Quietly became the industry standard. Could flood the market to make proces collapse, drive smaller out of business. Oligarchy. Antibiotics chicken feed, spray chems at slaughterhouses to kill microbes and prevent foodborne illness. Farms became factories. Least profitable part left to contract chicken farmers. With every flock, the farmer racing against his debt. Dead birds, biohazard suits. Claim not know which batch of chicks healthy or not, but had the metrics to know that older hens higher risks. Bankruptcy. Pressure drove them down and out. Laotians bought the farms. John Tyson Great Depression farmer. Don processing designed, new age. Don Tyson, took out loan, hatchery. His young company benefited from being a new kind of animal. It was both a farm and a manufacturer. It was a biological system and an industrial machine. THis hybrid quality allowed it to dodge taxes and evade regulations that constrained the power o f other meat companies, like beef meatpackers. Outsourced the time-intensive, lowest-profit and highest risks components of the process. The people building the chicken houses and raising the chickens suffered. They try running their own farms, but hired hands didn’t work as hard as farmers who had to make a profit on their heavy investments. New breed of indentured farmer was born. Science breakthrough - turn petrochemicals into nitrogen fertilizer. New pesticides Monocrop age. 1940 farmers bought only 34% of their inputs.. 1960s 63%. Aggregate farm output rose 54%. Get big and specialized made them more dependent on corps like Tyson. Prices down, but so did profit margins. So they raised more crops or livestock to stay afloat, increasing supply and driving down prices even more. Tyson CPA was told to convince IRS to classify them as a family farm. Because of loophole: family farms allowed to use cash-basis accounting, simpler recordkeeping, figuring ff not have accountants. So, even though multi-million dollar corporation, could claim family farm and get simplified recordkeeping, defer income claims and can claim losses each year, and pay just minimal taxes. He set up a dummy cor p that was a wholly owned subsidiary of Tyson’s. Like an interest-free loan from the taxpayers. And keep 2 sets of books. Bought up competitors.13 years push into fast food, cheapest meat easy pre-processes. McNuggets 1983. Tournaments Don Tyson stoked competition among chicken producers and his staff. Magnetic personality they felt compelled to impress. Even when resigned as CEO, became chairman, created Class B shares, maintained control and veto power. In late 1990s, expansions into seafood and hogs faltering. Taxpayer gift worth billions of dollars to help it reconstruction -- this would underpin the profits of every major corporate meat producer for more than a decade. Subsidies - central planning by US govt. Limited overproduction. New farm program Freedom to Farm 1996. Now free to overproduce. Prices plummeted, farmers lost money, taxpayers covered losses. Made corn cheaper to buy than grow, so benefited Tyson. Freedom to Farm delivered about $947 million a year in savings to industrial hog producers alone. Smithfield had copied Tyson playbook and took the lead. Iowa: Iowa Beef Producers: IBP beef factory early 1980s in Garden CIty KS, could kill over 5,000 cows a day, one every 11 seconds or so over 2 eight-hour shifts. Super-sized slaughterhouse enabled them to produce and ship millions of pounds of boxed beef (innovation, easier and cheaper to ship to Seattle and Florida, retailers and restaurants, so immerse market advantage). Needed a dependable supply of animals. Proved hardly to vertically integrate cow production compared with Tyson’s vertical integration of chicken and hog farming. Efforts hampering by 2 of the cow’s internal organs: the rumen and the uterus. By nature 4-chambered stomach to digest the cellulose in grass. Not supposed to eat corn...and uterus: one baby at a time, one year at a time. So tinker with biology to boost profits. And contracts with formula prices with ranchers and feedlot (instead of them taking finished animals to auction). Iowa is the lead producers of cheap corn and soybeans, so it benefited them to alter farmed animals’ diets. Chickenization of other agribusiness: Like chickens, after Tyson changed the markets, hogs sold by contract instead of open market, pushing independent sellers/dealers out. No longer an open, competitive cash market. By 2011 98% of all hogs were grown and sold under contract through vertically integrated companies like Smithfield. Ended a system begun with hwy system that enabled national transport. Now, not competitive, a few corps determine price and supply. Cowboys now ride around massive feedlots. Tyson, Cargill, JBS Swift and National Beef control the beef market. Producers pitted against meatpackers. Contract system for feedlot operators created de facto vertically integration, guaranteeing supply to 4 corps without risk borne by suppliers. Spirit-killing culture took over by 1990s. One rancher who spent years as a buyer for a big beef packer: If you crawl in bed with a rattlesnake and think you ain’t going to be bit, then you’re pretty stupid.” No premium for quality, no matter what goes into choice - steak - or select - hamburger. Don’t bother to appraise the animals in pens. Carson quit as National cattle buyer when realized that and founded Maverick Feeders (shrinking free market/cash market)...but found the big 4 would prevail. When bidding the big meatpackers win most of the time, like a cartel. Tyson’s use of the growth hormone Zilmax little-known because public disclosure is not required. Juices up the cattle’s growth rate and yield of beef at slaughterhouses. Leaner and lower quality. Cargill caved in 2012 and began accepting Zilmax-treated cattle. By the time Cargill folded, JB and National followed Tyson’s lead. Then in Aug 2013 notified feedlot operators to it wouldn’t accept Z-treated cattle until further notice. Cheap meat has changed rural America and American business. Sec Ag Mike Espy, under Bill Clinton, indicted for bribery charges for accepting gifts from Tyson Foods. At Tyson, earnings were falling due to decreased demand. Throttled back production, boneless skinless chicken breast rose 20 cents, profitable again. Under Donnie Smith. Lawsuits that Tyson, ConAgra and Pilgrim’s Pride manipulating scales at their slaughterhouses to underweigh loads of birds so they could underpay farmers. Tysons employee described how plant managers delivered lower-quality chicks to farmer the company considered troublemakers. A jury found that Tyson tactics depressed prices paid to ranchers and feedlots by billions of dollars, even as grocery store beef prices climbed. Reform: 1996-2006: some attempts to curb vertical integration (market domination of meat oligarchy). Bill Heffernan 31 yrs research 1969-2000, shows why it’s detrimental. Tracked debt and how the farmers felt - powerlessness has a toll. Eric Tabor and Tom Miller 1995 in Iowa began investigating contract farming...rise of Monsanto, only 2 big grain corps ADM and Cargill. Iowa wanted preserve some farmer freedom. Smithfield may have been main target, but all of the big corps stepped up to stave the effort that could affect the national meat industry (protested interference). Appeared nearly like serfdom. Steve Moline, who had been a hog farmer, raised concerns over big corps controlling the breeding, as genetics are the key to livestock success. Leaving the farmers with just fattening the adult hogs was the lowest-profit part. Price collapse 1998, hog farmers met at Moline’s home...they feared being spotted by corporate field technicians. Moline thought it was sufficient that in Iowa the corps could own the individual animals. But in 1999, Smithfield bought a huge contractor of hog farms in Iowa, completing the whole circle of vertical integration, which Iowa banned. Iowa brought lawsuit against Smithfield and tried to establish the Producer Protection Act 1999 for 16 farm states (except Ark, home to Tyson)....the act required contract terms be posted publicly, 3 days to have an attorney review a contract). Problem: Smithfield rep told James R. Baker at GIPSA (antitrust regulator of meat industry est. in the 1920s meat trust age) the act is anti-free enterprise and would hamper market dev in China. Antitrust is not anti-big, but is aimed at keeping competition from being eliminated. So: simply some rules to minimize unfair competition. Instead of Act. And powerful lobbyist don’t lash out. You don’t see it coming, just wake up one morning and it’s over. “Didn’t want to drive the hog industry out of Iowa.” Then in 2000, Tim Daschle SD: less stringent bill defeated by lobbyists, who also copied memo to agribusiness and food industry giants like Monsanto, ConAgra and industry associations. Then Smithfield sued Iowa claing ban against complete vert integration was a trade barrier affecting interstate commerce. Part of a (successful) effort to tamp down on state laws restricting corporate farming. Smithfield was allowed to keep the vertical integration 10 years but with no tournament system and no canceling producer contracts and allow them to air grievances. Tyson, Cargill and Hormel signed similar agreements. Integration not just a means of efficiency, but an instrument of power. Disparity between state laws indicated that meaningful reform would be need to be made on the federal level. There was hope that new president Obama could institute reform 2007-2011. But with the financial meltdown, agricultural reform fell off the priority list. Climate: companies argued that mergers, cost cutting and market control were critical to staying profitable. Obama appointed Tom Vilsack, former gov of Iowa, as Sec of Ag. VIlsack did stand behind Attorney General Tom Miller a he fought the rise of vertically integrated pork production. And wanted to reform the Packers and Stockyards Assn. Hard, though, to bring suit to assert USDA’s power b/c working between depts and agencies (Dept of Justice). Christine Varney avowed vigorous antitrust enforcement to protect consumers. Pushback: Trades like American Meat Institute and corps fought: reform would affect supply chain, cost jobs, profits needed to fund jobs, be competitive, turn back the clock on efficiency that made the U.S. the most innovative meat processing system, etc. So Vilsack’s team lost control of the public narrative (at the time the Tea Party gained power, fighting health care reform). Then big business enlisted regular people -- including farmers who were favored in the tournament system -- to contact lawmakers to mirror the wishes of big business. One farmer who was enlisted to speak out about the need for the tournament system in order to foster innovation and motivate farmers to work harder and invest in updating houses actually ended up declaring bankruptcy. National Chicken Council said banning the tournament system would wipe out all innovation in the industry...paying farmers a bonus wasn’t incentive enough to get farmers to work hard or update their houses - “there needed to be the threat of financial penalties.” Locavore movement helped keep indie farmers in business. Niche markets. Vilsack’s team fractured: reformers vs. pragmatists. Managed during the rule revision to keep one key protection for farmers: force companies like Tyson to restrict the tournament to farmers who owned similar chicken houses. Then Kansas Republican senator Pat Roberts framed the reform initiative as the USDA’s attack on agriculture. Obama admin backpedaled. Don Tyson set sights on Brazil, India and China “like US in the 60s, eating more meat.” Don Tyson - running biography through the book. Powerful, self-made, created a new system of agriculture. Girlfriends and illegit children. Boom year for Tyson 2011, 2012. Price hikes and production cuts became central to its business model. And, always, about how efficiently the producers can convert feed into meat. Employs many, but their communities lag economically behind others in the same states.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    We all like meat but don't want to think about where it comes from. And I'm kind of fine with that. Presumably regulation - well enforced - protects animals from undue cruelty. So we remain complicitly sheltered. For the alternative, expensive and rare meat, study dietary habits of the Middle Ages. I have. But The Meat Racket blows apart our happy myths in its chronicling of the human cost of cheap, plentiful meat. It records the dominance integrated corporations hold over farmers and national fo We all like meat but don't want to think about where it comes from. And I'm kind of fine with that. Presumably regulation - well enforced - protects animals from undue cruelty. So we remain complicitly sheltered. For the alternative, expensive and rare meat, study dietary habits of the Middle Ages. I have. But The Meat Racket blows apart our happy myths in its chronicling of the human cost of cheap, plentiful meat. It records the dominance integrated corporations hold over farmers and national food supplies, with the concomitant powerlessness of rural entrepreneurs to even consider negotiation. And up to a point I'm fine with the free market economics of all this. But both sides need retain some power for these relationships to be true exercises of competitive capitalism. And this isn't the case. In fact, we've almost returned to the feudal age. Only now with lots of meat. Christopher Leonard has written an essential book that asks where our unlabelled grocery meat comes from - an eye opener that's an argument for right-wing vegetarianism. It could be written with a bit more poetry, but I don't think it needs that. His revelations are story enough. Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_A_Taubman

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Non-fiction book all about how Tyson's Food (chicken conglomerate) took over the chicken business in America. Tyson's was one of the main players (perhaps THE main player) that made factory farming A Thing. Make no mistake--this is a non-fiction book about chicken factory farming, but I found it completely fascinating. Unlike other writings on this topic, it did not focus on the ethics and/or cruelty of the practice; it focused on the finance and economics aspects. Before factory farming existed i Non-fiction book all about how Tyson's Food (chicken conglomerate) took over the chicken business in America. Tyson's was one of the main players (perhaps THE main player) that made factory farming A Thing. Make no mistake--this is a non-fiction book about chicken factory farming, but I found it completely fascinating. Unlike other writings on this topic, it did not focus on the ethics and/or cruelty of the practice; it focused on the finance and economics aspects. Before factory farming existed in the U.S. (mid-20th century), there were no laws and regulations really set up to control it. The government had yet to "catch up" to the reality of the new booming business model, and Tyson's took full advantage of it. It used 2 systems of accounting--a cost-basis one for the I.R.S., which allowed it to defer reporting on profits until the following quarter (making Tyson's appear much less profitable than it actually was), and an accrual-basis one for when it was trying to get bank loans, which allowed it to report even signed contracts (yet to be fulfilled) as earnings, making Tyson's appear as profitable as it could (for the purpose of getting bank loans). Tyson's milked this for years before the government wised up, allowing its business model to grow like a cancer. Just goes to show you... really smart private-sector lawyers and entrepreneurs will usually outpace and outwit the slow churning cogs of government.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    When did chicken become tasteless? I can remember some years ago when it actually had a flavor. Same with beef. According to journalist Christopher Leonard, this is the result of a decades long "chickenization" of the meat industry. Most of The Meat Racket follows the history of Tyson Foods and its transformation of the chicken industry in America. It isn't a simple story of either big bad corporation or of the genius of unfettered capitalism. You can draw your own conclusions about the benefits When did chicken become tasteless? I can remember some years ago when it actually had a flavor. Same with beef. According to journalist Christopher Leonard, this is the result of a decades long "chickenization" of the meat industry. Most of The Meat Racket follows the history of Tyson Foods and its transformation of the chicken industry in America. It isn't a simple story of either big bad corporation or of the genius of unfettered capitalism. You can draw your own conclusions about the benefits versus the drawbacks, but you have to know the story first, and this is as good a place as any to start. Leonard's research is impressive and he's covered a lot of ground to get the facts. In the same week I read this book, I also happened to read George Packer's article in The New Yorker about Amazon.com and was struck by the similar way that Tyson and Amazon scoop up competitors and make no bones about trying to eliminate competition. Tyson early on began buying out their competition, even when they weren't particularly interested in owning the companies, because they wanted to prevent others from buying them and possibly getting an advantage on Tyson. As a customer, you appreciate the low prices they provide and the predictable quality. But after the competition has been neutralized, the giant that's left can dictate conditions and prices to suppliers and to customers as well. The supplier and customer have little choice since their are no longer other options. Leonard also describes the lack of action on the part of the government, at state and federal levels. Several attempts to apply anti-trust laws have been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. Some people may admire the business genius of John and Don Tyson, while others will wonder if chickenization is the future of food, retail, and even books.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alyce

    Extremely torn - I think that this an important subject; I like the author's writing style; I admire the compassion that he has for all of the parties involved (whether farmer or meat conglomerate exec); and I respect the amount of research undertaken to write this book- but I wish there were more meat here. This would have made a compelling magazine expose- but because there's not enough here to support an entire book, it's quite redundant. And the title is misleading. If you are going to call Extremely torn - I think that this an important subject; I like the author's writing style; I admire the compassion that he has for all of the parties involved (whether farmer or meat conglomerate exec); and I respect the amount of research undertaken to write this book- but I wish there were more meat here. This would have made a compelling magazine expose- but because there's not enough here to support an entire book, it's quite redundant. And the title is misleading. If you are going to call a book "The Meat Racket", you can't limit that racket to chicken, or devote most of the book to Tyson (there is a brief mention of Perdue's market share but not much more). This book would be better named "The Tyson Chicken Racket". Because you cannot write a book about the chicken industry without researching and covering other brands, like Bell & Evans and Murray's. The chapters on the beef and pork industries seem like merely an afterthought. On the other hand, if everyone read this book (at least the first third), Tyson, Smithfield, and others would lose a lot of their power over farmers. And perhaps more people would go back to eating organic, free range, delicious meat and poultry. One take-away is that the price we pay as a society for cheap, tasteless, meat is too high. The author was on to something, and if he had spent a few more years looking for answers to half the questions swirling in my brain as I was reading, this would have been one extraordinary book. Because it does give one pause. I've already stopped buying canned soup because I don't know where the chicken came from....

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gilda Felt

    If you’ve ever thought about becoming a vegetarian, this book will give you the push you need. I’ve long known about the cruel and inhumane treatment given many of the animals that are our food. What I didn’t realize was why that was, and how it came to be. Most of it can be laid at the feet of one family: the Tysons. It begins with John Tyson, a man so scarred by the Depression that he decided he needed all the money in the world. One step at a time, he took over the chicken industry, at the sam If you’ve ever thought about becoming a vegetarian, this book will give you the push you need. I’ve long known about the cruel and inhumane treatment given many of the animals that are our food. What I didn’t realize was why that was, and how it came to be. Most of it can be laid at the feet of one family: the Tysons. It begins with John Tyson, a man so scarred by the Depression that he decided he needed all the money in the world. One step at a time, he took over the chicken industry, at the same time infecting his son, Don, with the same psychotic need for money and power. Don’s contribution would be to carry on their production practices to the pork industry. Eventually, even the beef industry would be infected. But I don’t agree with the author’s claim that the driving force behind the system was the American consumer. Yes, once in place, the American consumer became just as captured as the farmers who signed the misleading contracts; they had little choice. Both would pay a huge price, inexorably caught in Tyson’s web. Except for those few who are able to buy their meat from local farms (and I thankfully count myself in their number,) everyone buys either Tyson meat, or that of one of the only three other meat producers. All use a system where the farmers’ income is slowly being eroded, while the buyers’ price continues to rise. Where the money ends up isn’t hard to figure. Because of the destruction of many farming communities, the brutal and horrifying treatment of the animals, and because of the continued gouging of the American public (and now the world’s,) I can only hope that both John and Don burn in hell.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Miles Winston

    what was most valuable for me was this book's focus on rural America. when we hear of the big meat companies in the news, it seems they are mostly being attacked from a public health perspective, e.g. their mismanagement of animal waste, overuse of antibiotics, etc. but it's equally important to get a sense of what industry consolidation has done to the rural economy and its negative outcomes for low-income rural populations. the contract farming system, the tournament method for farmer pay, and what was most valuable for me was this book's focus on rural America. when we hear of the big meat companies in the news, it seems they are mostly being attacked from a public health perspective, e.g. their mismanagement of animal waste, overuse of antibiotics, etc. but it's equally important to get a sense of what industry consolidation has done to the rural economy and its negative outcomes for low-income rural populations. the contract farming system, the tournament method for farmer pay, and the generally authoritarian position the companies take against farmers are all important things to be aware of, and this book covers them well. also interesting was the story of corporate consolidation, as illustrated by Tyson, and the industry's subsequent ability to exercise cartel-esque influence over markets, court proceedings, and policy discussions to an alarming degree. i especially enjoyed the last few chapters on the work of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to regulate contract farming in the hog industry in the '90s, and the attempts of Ag. Secretary Tom Vilsack, on behalf of the Obama administration, to bring tougher antitrust enforcement to the meat industry, and remarkably failing. in fact, it seems a rather representative picture of the Obama administration's nominally effective use of executive authority

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cyrus

    I was already "the choir" for The Meat Racket in regards to the general overblown nature of the meat industry, but this book goes far beyond that. This is a well-researched tale with elegant, simple prose that brings to life just how severely the uber-consolidation of an industry has affected every player in it. The historical perspective is so important here to realize just why companies like Tyson do what they do - why their mottos *must* be "expand or expire." Yes, greed is involved, but it's I was already "the choir" for The Meat Racket in regards to the general overblown nature of the meat industry, but this book goes far beyond that. This is a well-researched tale with elegant, simple prose that brings to life just how severely the uber-consolidation of an industry has affected every player in it. The historical perspective is so important here to realize just why companies like Tyson do what they do - why their mottos *must* be "expand or expire." Yes, greed is involved, but it's also a survival instinct. If there were no Tyson, there'd be another Tyson, which the author shows by explaining how competitive the industrial meat industry has always been. This book is just the story of one industry, but it functions well as a template for every other industry that has seen rapid consolidation, degradation of law, and anti-competitiveness. Also, there is a person named "Joe Fred" in it. Hats off to you, Joe Fred.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John

    It’s sad for the chicken farmer in Arkansas, indentured to a life of low wages and a real fear of the company that pays him, Tyson Foods, which makes a profit regardless of how the farmer is doing. But this book is not only about chicken, it’s about pork and beef and reading it will tend to make you want to be a vegetarian. Tyson Foods has “chickenized” the production of meat in this country, where meat farmers are serfs to the company. But we consumers are able to get our “cheap” chicken in all It’s sad for the chicken farmer in Arkansas, indentured to a life of low wages and a real fear of the company that pays him, Tyson Foods, which makes a profit regardless of how the farmer is doing. But this book is not only about chicken, it’s about pork and beef and reading it will tend to make you want to be a vegetarian. Tyson Foods has “chickenized” the production of meat in this country, where meat farmers are serfs to the company. But we consumers are able to get our “cheap” chicken in all kinds of forms from this monster company that makes gazillionaires out of the owners and investors off of the backs of its low wage workers and farmers through “vertical integration”. Read the book to find out what vertical integration is, which Tyson more or less invented.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevinthorson

    The title definitely oversells the excitement and reach of this book. In the end, it is a high-level history of the development of Tyson foods and it's rise to a dominant position in the oligopolistic chicken and pork industries. The book's primary focus along the way is the pressure Tyson and its brethren put on its powerless rural farmers. Well written, pretty informative, and as uplifting as you would expect!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

    Many books have tackled the issue of eating meat, especially in terms of humane issues. But none have gone as deep in looking at the impact of the current meat industry on the farmers who produce it. The picture is not pretty. Leonard does a terrific job of pulling back the screen and showing how the system works. It's a gripping story, well told.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nathanael Johnson

    Amazing reporting. Good writing, though heavy-handed with the old-school newspaper style at times. It's always "on the ragged edge of bankruptcy." A minor miracle in learning about a highly secretive company.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeannie

    Very well researched. The scary truth about the huge corporations who control the worlds meat supply and so much more. It's disgusting to realize what we believe and what is really the truth is so widely separated. A real eye-opener that was easy to read and understand.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The Meat Racket explores the modern, industrial meat industry through the lens of one of the major companies - Tyson Foods. Christopher Leonard explores the rise of the industrial chicken industry that John and Don Tyson created and how that business model shaped all other industrial meat industries. I've read a lot about this topic and was very familiar with CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), but had no idea that Tyson basically created the first CAFOs for chickens and the other me The Meat Racket explores the modern, industrial meat industry through the lens of one of the major companies - Tyson Foods. Christopher Leonard explores the rise of the industrial chicken industry that John and Don Tyson created and how that business model shaped all other industrial meat industries. I've read a lot about this topic and was very familiar with CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), but had no idea that Tyson basically created the first CAFOs for chickens and the other meat industries followed suit because there was no other way to compete with Tyson without CAFOs. This book also reiterates the illusion of choice that consumers have with industrial meat - there are only a handful of companies that control almost all the consumer meat. There may be various company names on packages of meat at the grocery store, but almost all of those companies are fronts for the illusion of choice and are owned by one of the few meat giants like Tyson. Leonard also explores some of the most unscrupulous practices of Tyson and how terribly they treat their farmers. Basically the fastest way to work yourself to death and end up bankrupt is to become an industrial chicken farmer. Some of the stories from the ruined farmers are heartbreaking. This is a really great overview of the industrial meat industry by examining one of the biggest players and leaders in this horrific industry. Definitely an eye-opening book! Some of the many quotes I really enjoyed: "Just a handful of companies produce nearly all the meat consumed in the United States, and Tyson is the king among them. The company sits atop a powerful oligarchy of corporations that determines how animals are raised, how much farmers get paid, and how meat is processed, all while reaping massive profits and remaining almost entirely opaque to the consumer...[this is]a system that keeps farmers in a state of indebted servitude, living like modern-day sharecroppers on the ragged edge of bankruptcy." (p. 3) "Tyson could roughly predict which chicks would be healthy based on the age of the hens that laid the eggs. Older hens produced weaker chicks, while younger hens laid more vigorous broods. Edwards noticed that some farmers were consistently receiving chicks produced by the healthiest, youngest hens. Whoever was setting up the deliveries in the Broiler Office was giving these farmers the cream off the top. And he noticed something else: Other farmers were consistently getting the batches of culls. As Perry Edwards pored over the shipping logs, he saw that the pattern was the same. When there were bad batches of birds, they went to the same group of farms. And the healthiest birds also went to a select group of farms that, not coincidentally, always ranked as the highest paid farms in the network." (p. 37) "Cash-basis accounting is simple. A company records its expenses only when it pays out the actual cash for them. And it only books income when the actual cash comes in the door. By contrast, companies using accrual accounting methods record their expenses when they sign a contract to pay someone, even if the cash hasn't actually left their account yet. Farmers were allowed to use cash-basis accounting because it was simpler, and Congress didn't think small farms had the money to hire accountants for complicated recordkeeping...By 1985, Tyson's Foods had avoided paying $26.5 million in annual taxes through the cash-basis loophole, according to a report written by two economists with the U.S. General Accounting Office. The morality of the ploy didn't seem to be a matter of much debate inside Tyson. When the company saw a loophole and a chance to make a profit, Tyson took it, a strategy that became part of the company's culture for decades to come...In 1986 Tyson was forced to quit using the scheme when the Tax Reform Act closed the loophole for farms with more than $25 million a year in gross recipts." (p. 72-4) "At the end of any given week, a series of letters is mailed out from the Tyson complex in downtown Waldron...The letters are several pages long and packed with complicated financial figures. The farmers call them settlement sheets. The one critical piece of information the settlement sheets contain is the going price of chicken, or, more accurately, the price that Tyson deems appropriate to pay. Each farmer receives his own price, determined by the tournament system that ranks each farmer against his neighbor. At the end of each week, Tyson makes a competitive pool out of all the farms that have delivered chickens to the plant. The company has far more data about the farms than their owners; the company can compare how much feed each farm consumed compared to its neighbors, how many birds died and how much weight gained overall...All this information is fed into an equation that spits out a simple ranking: the most efficient farms on top, the least efficient at the bottom...But there are critical pieces of information that Tyson keeps secret. The company doesn't tell the farmer whom he competed against in a given tournament...If a farmer ranks near the top, he might earn 5 cents a pound for his labor. If he ranks in the middle, he would get paid 4.5 cents. Close to the bottom, he would make 4.1 cents...When a farmer gets hammered in the tournament, it might seem prudent for him to approach his neighbors and ask what they were doing differently. This is tough to do, and not just because the names on the tournament ranking are left blank. Each page is clearly marked with the warning: 'Confidential and Proprietary Information of Tyson Foods, Inc.' If farmers were to meet and compare their settlement sheets, or show them to a journalist or lawyer, Tyson can sue them for leaking confidential information." (p. 115-117) "The tournament system is kept afloat by an obscure federal organization called the Farm Service Agency. The FSA spends hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to make sure that there will always be cheap loans for a new chicken farm when an older one is put out of business...While the agency was limited in how much money it could loan directly to farmers, it had far more leeway in the size of the loan it could guarantee. Under the guaranteed loan program, the FSA would pay back the bank more than 90 percent of the loan value if a farmer defaulted...Between 1999 and 2009, the Arkansas FSA office alone guaranteed more than $797 million in new loans, leaving taxpayers on the hook if the farms failed...It's difficult to determine how much money taxpayers spend every year to support Tyson's system of contract farmers. Clearly, billions of dollars underpin the construction of new chicken farms in the United States. This steady flow of easy credit allows Tyson and its competitors to cast off farmers without worrying that banks will hesitate to lend money to the next chicken grower in line." (p. 139-143) "The free market had very little to do with the U.S. food market anymore. The USDA, for example, centrally controlled how many acres of corn were planted each year. This wasn't as completely Sovietesque as it sounds: The production controls weren't mandatory. Farmers could plant as many acres of corn or wheat as they wanted. But if they didn't comply with the USDA's state production levels, the farmers got cut out of government subsidies. In essence, the USDA bribed farmers to go along with its central planning regime. And it worked remarkably well...In 1996, Congress ended the farm subsidy program with a new farm bill called the Freedom to Farm Act. Strangely enough, Freedom to Farm only enlarged the farm subsidy program and made it much more expensive...In 1998 taxpayers handed over $12.4 billion to farmers, and in 1999 they paid $21.5 billion, nearly triple what they paid before Freedom to Farm was passed. While it didn't end subsidies, Freedom to Farm made one critical change that benefited Tyson Foods. The law disbanded production controls. Farmers got their government checks, and they could grow whatever they wanted. When the production controls went away, farmers did what they do best: They massively overproduced. The world was glutted with corn, wheat, and soybeans. Prices plummeted, farmers bemoaned the low prices, and taxpayers subsidies grew rapidly to cover farmers' losses. This cycle led to a remarkable gift for meat producers. Feed grains were the biggest cost that Tyson Foods had to pay to raise animals. If feed grains got too expensive, the company's profits could quickly vanish. Freedom to Farm didn't just make grains cheaper for Tyson. The federal program went so far as to produce an upside-down food economy, where corn was actually cheaper to buy than it was to grow....For industrial hog producers alone, Freedom to Farm delivered about $947 million a year in savings, according to one study." (p.165-6) "On the meatpacking side, there are now just four companies that buy 85 percent of the cattle sold in the country. Tyson is the biggest, followed by Cargill, JBS Swift, and National Beef. As meatpackers have become bigger, feedlots have tried to keep pace, expanding to meet the needs of their corporate buyers...What has evolved is a kind of de facto vertical integration, with whole networks of feedlots tied to meatpackers under contract. The cattle market is technically an open one, but no one behaves that way, and it's an open secret that they don't. There is ample evidence that the big four meatpackers have chosen to divvy up the market, picking territories where they can buy all the cattle from a feedlot without facing a competing bid." (p. 208-9) "While Tyson has been the architect of this system, the driving force behind it has been the American consumer. Americans have decided that meat must be cheap and plentiful. It must be consistent in its attributes and predictable in its taste. It takes factory farms to raise meat like that. It takes companies like Tyson. It takes networks of chicken farmers integrated tightly with big slaughterhouses like the one in Waldron. It takes a steady flow of genetically selected pigs from the nursery in Holdenville, Oklahoma, that are shipped to contract farms in Iowa for raising. It requires massive feedlots, controlled by contracts, that can guarantee a nonstop supply of cattle. The system also requires the rules that Tyson has imposed. This is what delivers the cheap pork chop, the Zilmax-infused hamburger patty, and the ever-ready supply of chicken McNuggets." (p. 226-7) "Industrial food lobbyists know it's smart to stick together. A regulation over one of them could open the door to regulation over others. By pooling their money and time, they present a united wall against any legislation that might change the power structure of American agribusiness. They fight together, and they profit together. Meat lobbyists hold regular conference calls, sharing tips and news and planning future campaigns." (p. 251-2) "The biggest meat companies - Tyson Foods, ConAgra Foods, Cargill, Smithfield, and JBS - spent a combined $5.94 million on lobbying during 2010 alone, according to an analysis of disclosure reports. Tyson had the biggest lobbying operation by far, spending $2.59 million." (p. 286) "In 68 percent of the counties where Tyson operates, per-capita income has grown more slowly than the state average over the last forty years. Tyson counties, in other words, were worse off in terms of income growth than their neighbors, even as Tyson's profits increased...But the data suggests that Tyson is a suffocating economic force on the communities from which it derives its wealth. Without question, the company provides thousands of jobs and steady paychecks. But its cost-cutting ethos and the lack of competition restrains income growth in rural America. The company has expanded in economically marginal areas, and it has kept those areas economically marginal. Tyson Foods is feeding off the lowly economic position of rural America, not improving it." (p. 315-6)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan Olesen

    The information is important - How Tyson changed the entire meat industry by coming up with vertical integration, owning every step of the foodchain so they control every cost down to the quarter penny, from the grain and feed to the DNA on chickens, the trucks, the slaughterhouses, and the packing. From there it moved to pork, and then beef. While their profits are record-breaking, they've driven the farmers into bankruptcy and poverty with a system that makes Walmart look like Mother Theresa; The information is important - How Tyson changed the entire meat industry by coming up with vertical integration, owning every step of the foodchain so they control every cost down to the quarter penny, from the grain and feed to the DNA on chickens, the trucks, the slaughterhouses, and the packing. From there it moved to pork, and then beef. While their profits are record-breaking, they've driven the farmers into bankruptcy and poverty with a system that makes Walmart look like Mother Theresa; modern day feudal serfs. By spending millions on lobbying, they've successfully blocked any attempts at regulation, even though they have essentially disabled the free market on meat production - four companies own 90% of all meat production. Anti-trust legislators haven't managed to nail them. It truly is an evil system, deliberately keeps the farmers broke and one step ahead of collections so they can be manipulated, and if they question even a feather, the company destroys them. This is capitalism at its worst, and we DO have laws to stop it, but they pay off too many legislators. And the idiots in these states - whose road to poverty can be very clearly charted, keep voting for these morons. But in all I found the book a bit boring - if you cut out 70 pages, it might have helped, though I'm not sure what you'd cut. I had no sympathy for Tyson or their terror of being Depression-broke again. I didn't need to know his boardroom etiquette; I'd rather have heard more from the farmers. So it's worthwhile information, but unless you're studying that sort of thing, it's something to browse, not read cover to cover.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Huston

    As private "concentration of power" becomes more discussed in public, this book is an excellent case study. A history of Tyson Foods from the Depression to present day. Clear picture of how poultry growing (essentially chicken babysitting) looks on-the-ground to farmers. Traces generations of poultry growers in Arkansas who are steadily squeezed into bankruptcy before another generation takes their place. Vertical integration and disappearing markets. Open markets replaced with secret, skewed con As private "concentration of power" becomes more discussed in public, this book is an excellent case study. A history of Tyson Foods from the Depression to present day. Clear picture of how poultry growing (essentially chicken babysitting) looks on-the-ground to farmers. Traces generations of poultry growers in Arkansas who are steadily squeezed into bankruptcy before another generation takes their place. Vertical integration and disappearing markets. Open markets replaced with secret, skewed contracts. Allegations of widespread abuse of industrial control to silence and punish outspoken farmers. Tournament system of rewards and penalties that skews playing field toward more aggressive investment and indebtedness by contract farmers. Monopolistic level of control over poultry prices - just cut production to raise prices. Battle of ideas and influence in the courts, legislatures, and regulatory agencies between farmer activists and populist politicians on one side versus corporate lawyers and lobbyists on the other. And of course, money in politics. The battle is ongoing to this day as the hard-won Farmer Fair Practices Rules which were to be enacted earlier this year have been kicked down the road by the new Trump administration.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Yvette

    I somehow listened to this book and Radium Girls in the same month. Talk about the best way to lose even the faintest sliver of faith in corporate America. While it can be a bit long and verbose its a very informative book on the meat industry in America. The focus is especially on chickens but if you want to know more about factory farming of hogs likes say... the ones in North Carolina that just made an ecological disaster this book has got you covered. This book, more than anything, is about th I somehow listened to this book and Radium Girls in the same month. Talk about the best way to lose even the faintest sliver of faith in corporate America. While it can be a bit long and verbose its a very informative book on the meat industry in America. The focus is especially on chickens but if you want to know more about factory farming of hogs likes say... the ones in North Carolina that just made an ecological disaster this book has got you covered. This book, more than anything, is about the plight of the farmer/rancher. Don't go into this thinking it's pulling for animals/pushing a vegan agenda as it really is shining a light on how terrible things are for the humans involved though it does cover some of how things are terrible for the animals as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Peacegal

    The meat industry gets away with a lot. With legislators in their pockets and millions of consumers willing to look the other way, only a few other industries enjoy such a lack of scrutiny. Perhaps you’ve read books about the environmental destruction, animal cruelty, and slaughterhouse worker abuse perpetuated by Big Ag. This book isn’t about any of the above—rather, it’s about yet another little-known victim—the farmers who contract to work with Tyson and its (very few) peers. With the rise of The meat industry gets away with a lot. With legislators in their pockets and millions of consumers willing to look the other way, only a few other industries enjoy such a lack of scrutiny. Perhaps you’ve read books about the environmental destruction, animal cruelty, and slaughterhouse worker abuse perpetuated by Big Ag. This book isn’t about any of the above—rather, it’s about yet another little-known victim—the farmers who contract to work with Tyson and its (very few) peers. With the rise of the factory farming system as the dominant way of producing animal foods, the American consumer has suffered, as well. As the book painstakingly illustrates, a shopper may think they have many choices at the meat counter, the freezer case, and while dining out—but in reality, the vast majority of all of these products come from just two or three huge corporations. Many Americans have shown an interest in eating meat that comes from more environment- and animal welfare-friendly sources, but the cold fact of the matter is that unless they are willing to pay premium prices and purchase directly from the few small farmers still hanging on, they are giving money to the very people who are acting against these values. So how did we get in this mess? Chickens were the first animals to be corralled into the factory farming system, in the post-WWII era. Other animals proved to be more of a challenge. Pig farmer Bill Moeller pioneered the factory farming system for hogs. By the late 1980s, Tyson had built a small network of hog farms based upon Moeller’s system. The 1980s! So next time an industry apologist claims that the intensive factory farming system is the only way to raise pigs, think about just how recently it was that “standard industry practices” became “standard.” Leonard writes: The birth of the factory hog farm sent a clear message to the industry: Adopt Tyson’s model or go out of business. And thus we have an industry in which vast, smelly buildings crammed with thousands of pigs has become the norm. Many outsiders wonder why factory farms operate in such a cruel and ruthless way. If you look at it in cold economical terms, it makes sense: It took 342 pounds of feed and 23 minutes of labor to raise 100 pounds of pork on small farms with only 500 to 2,000 hogs that were raised in older, low-tech barns. Big farms could do the same thing faster and cheaper. On average, it took about 247 pounds of feed and 7 minutes of labor to raise 100 pounds of pork on a farm with about 5,000 pigs. The legal system is structured to benefit and protect the industry, so why should they police themselves? Chickens peck each other in close confinement, but it’s cheaper to change the chicken than change the housing, so just sear off the ends of their beaks. Pigs and calves can survive being castrated while fully conscious, and painkilling medications cost money—so why not? Immigrant slaughterhouse workers normally don’t complain about safety issues for fear of losing their jobs, and if they get hurt, they can just be fired, right? It’s important to remember that this industry operates on a razor-thin profit margin, beholden to the shifting whims of the marketplace, and they are going to cut corners wherever and whenever they can. Farmed animals, as property specifically excluded from anti-cruelty laws, are going to lose out first. Next comes the environment, and people aren’t far behind. In short, unless you’re a Tyson or Smithfield CEO, there are no winners in the modern meat business. But we can’t just blame some faceless corporation for all of this, the author notes. While Tyson has been the architect of this system, the driving force behind it has been the American consumer. Americans have decided that meat must be cheap and plentiful. It must be consistent in its attributes and predictable in its taste. It takes factory farms to raise meat like that. And I would add to that the sheer VOLUME of meat consumed ensures that factory farms are going to be the rule of the day as well. Farmer Brown with 50 free-range hogs simply can’t keep up. The Big Ag industry and its apologists like to paint animal welfare groups as enormous, moneyed entities pounding upon the doors of innocent farmers across the land. In reality, Big Ag can and has defeated nearly every attempt to bring them to task for their behavior. The meat companies themselves had tremendous resources at their disposal. The biggest meat companies – Tyson Foods, ConAgra Foods, Cargill, Smithfield, and JBS—spent a combined $5.94 million on lobbying during 2010 alone, according to an analysis of disclosure reports. Tyson had the biggest lobbying operation by far, spending $2.59 million. Interestingly, Tyson has been outed as one of lobbyist Richard Berman’s patrons. Berman uses his constellation of organizations to attack anyone who disagrees with the workings of the corporate one percent, his targets ranging from animal welfare to public health to workers’ rights. One of Berman’s projects is “PETA kills animals,” which smears the animal welfare group for euthanizing unwanted pets. Think about that, and then think about who’s funding this cynical message: Don Tyson left behind a company that reaped $28.4 billion in sales. It controlled a network of about 6,000 industrial chicken farms that grew about 2.1 billion birds every year. The company slaughtered 7.2 million cows annually, killing more than 19,700 every day. It killed 20.5 million pigs every year, many of them born at the company’s contract farms in Oklahoma.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maria C.

    After reading this book and mr. Leonard's description of the chicken farms, I know why I don't like chicken anymore. Chicken used to be one of my favorite dishes; I can remember many nights coming home from school and smelling the broiling or baking chicken in the oven. Then, somewhere either in the 1980s or 1990s, the chicken smelled and tasted differently. This wasn't the chicken that browned all the way through; no matter how my mother cooked the chicken, (broiling, baking, putting lemon on i After reading this book and mr. Leonard's description of the chicken farms, I know why I don't like chicken anymore. Chicken used to be one of my favorite dishes; I can remember many nights coming home from school and smelling the broiling or baking chicken in the oven. Then, somewhere either in the 1980s or 1990s, the chicken smelled and tasted differently. This wasn't the chicken that browned all the way through; no matter how my mother cooked the chicken, (broiling, baking, putting lemon on it) the chicken was not the same. Its consistency was not the same, the flavor was not the same. Chicken stopped being one of my favorite dishes and fish took its place.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris Chen

    This is a great book about rural America and the power that industrial meat farming wields over rural communities and farmers. There are some chilling scenes of the company indiscriminately punishing and withholding money and information from the farmers, effectively indentured servants to the almighty Tyson. Diseased chicken barns are a painful reminder of the hidden costs of cheap meat. I think the author was trying to paint a very specific narrative about the power of industry and captive reg This is a great book about rural America and the power that industrial meat farming wields over rural communities and farmers. There are some chilling scenes of the company indiscriminately punishing and withholding money and information from the farmers, effectively indentured servants to the almighty Tyson. Diseased chicken barns are a painful reminder of the hidden costs of cheap meat. I think the author was trying to paint a very specific narrative about the power of industry and captive regulators which is well told. Some of the financial / profit driven narrative doesn't foot perfectly with the story, but still a very illuminating read. Big farming bad.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mik

    STUNNING insight into industrial farming. This book details the struggles of industrial farmers, who are taken advantage of by large corporations such as Tyson. This model of agriculture should scare ever citizen. During the pandemic of 2020, Johnny Tyson wrote a letter to the NY Times about how America's "Food Supply Chain Is Breaking"... he should know. His family's monopoly-like corporate takeover mentality, and vertically integrated method of farming broke it. This is a must-read for anyone STUNNING insight into industrial farming. This book details the struggles of industrial farmers, who are taken advantage of by large corporations such as Tyson. This model of agriculture should scare ever citizen. During the pandemic of 2020, Johnny Tyson wrote a letter to the NY Times about how America's "Food Supply Chain Is Breaking"... he should know. His family's monopoly-like corporate takeover mentality, and vertically integrated method of farming broke it. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about food-security for our blessed America.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    I don't think you will be able to find a book that so clearly and excellent captures how the meat industry has become so ruthlessly dominated by a few major players who can both throttle their suppliers and raise prices on their option-poor consumers with deeply unsettling ease. Definitely find the time for this fantastic investigative read when you can, and be prepared seriously rethink your eating habits by the time you're done.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael D Moore

    Another Outstanding Read From author Christopher Leonard, the other being Kochland. This book is well researched and shows Leonard's attention to detail, as well as his obsession with uncovering truths. The Meat Racket is a fascinating insight into the meat industry (chicken, pork, and to a lesser extent, beef) and the control exerted by a handful of companies. Really well written, couldn't put it down!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dino

    Christopher Leonard starts off the book with a clear agenda. He sets out to show that the U.S. meat business is a “racket”. He does not, in my opinion, do this very persuasively. For example, he states early on that “There is so little competition in the meat industry today that companies like Tyson can virtually raise the price at will”. It’s statements like this one, made without evidence, that serve to undermine the credibility of Leonard’s message. The type of evidence that Leonard does give Christopher Leonard starts off the book with a clear agenda. He sets out to show that the U.S. meat business is a “racket”. He does not, in my opinion, do this very persuasively. For example, he states early on that “There is so little competition in the meat industry today that companies like Tyson can virtually raise the price at will”. It’s statements like this one, made without evidence, that serve to undermine the credibility of Leonard’s message. The type of evidence that Leonard does give is to state that these companies have been raising prices more and more in recent years, even as U.S. wages have stagnated. But all things go up in price, usually every year. Meat prices are more volatile in price than other prices because the cost of growing meat depends on the cost of feed grains, which are world commodities that are sensitive to global weather patterns and other factors that affect global supply and demand. So the price increases, especially 2008, would seem to reflect rising grain prices rather than Tyson’s ability to extract monopoly profits. Have Tyson and its brethren been able to enrich their shareholders at the expense of American farmers and consumers, as Leonard claims? Maybe so, but I didn’t see any evidence for this in the book. Leonard states that “in 2010 alone Tyson Foods sold $28.43 billion worth of meat and cleared $780 million in pure profit”. But this fact does not really say anything meaningful. If Tyson can “raise prices at will” why would they settle for a mere 2.7% profit margin? More to the point, the profit margin is less relevant than the return on the capital invested by Tyson’s shareholders. Is Tyson able to earn a better return for its common shareholders than that of like investments in alternative securities? I doubt so, but true or not, Leonard’s failure to explore such questions shows lack of knowledge about the consequences of monopolistic power. Elsewhere, Leonard claims that, by using cash-basis accounting, Tyson could make it look like the company suffered massive losses each year, thereby reducing its taxable income. In fact, cash flows, unlike accrual based income, cannot be manipulated without harming the firm itself. Every company needs cash to operate, and asking customers to delay payments to Tyson, or paying suppliers earlier, would significantly harm Tyson’s shareholders. Lenoard clearly does not understand these concepts. Appallingly, Leonard states that “companies using accrual accounting record their expenses when they sign a contract to pay someone” which is just plain false. Overall, Leonard bites off more than he can chew with this book. Either he lacks the financial prowess to probe his central claims, or such an analysis bore no fruit so he chose to stay at the macro level and appeal to readers who are sympathetic to farmers and antagonistic to large, industrial meat companies like Tyson. When Leonard talks about Tyson owning the chickens even after it drops them off at its contract farmers, he bemoans the fact that the “farmer never owns his business’ most important asset”. Once again, we reveal Leonard’s failure to grasp basic finance. Tyson’s owning the chickens spares the farmers from having to borrow even more money (increase their indebtedness to their bankers) to finance an ongoing investment in the chickens. Tyson’s business model strikes me to be akin to a franchisor with the farms as franchisees. The model is highly scalable and no more distasteful, on its face, than McDonald’s and its thousands of franchise owners. In the end, if the franchisees don’t make money, the model collapses. Leonard does make some good points, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the inner workings of Tyson Foods and about Don Tyson the man. In these areas, Leonard shone. Overall, though, you feel from reading this book that Leonard is grasping around looking for the smoking gun against Tyson Foods, the big “conspiracy” in the meat industry, but he never quite gets there. He talks about the opacity of Tyson, its complex tournament system that’s used to rank and pay farmers, the sorry plight of the modern American farmer, and even about the growth hormone Zilmax. Leonard remarks on these things, implies that Tyson is a bully or is covering up some bad stuff it does, but then fails to show evidence, other than anecdotally, for these assertions. Leonard had mentioned early on that Tyson responded to the book and he had reprinted their statement at the end of the book. I was disappointed to discover that the reprinted statement was truncated, and Leonard failed to reprint the specific questions and answers, instead saying that any relevant information they provided was “incorporated into the text where appropriate”. From reading what Tyson said in the brief comments Leonard provided, I found Tyson’s comments reasonable. Basically, they felt Leonard had spoken to a small group of disgruntled farmers, and not to the larger group of famers with whom Tyson had great, long-term relationships. In summary, you might enjoy reading this book, but if you do, you have to read it critically and be weary of the broad, sweeping statements Leonard is prone to making.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy Clapper

    THIS RIGHT NOW! It’s 2020 and this book is more relevant even now. Want to know why Tyson took out a full page ad in one of the nations largest newspapers? Want to know why the grocery store shelves are not stocked? Read it. Determine for yourself and think about how the fly-over states impact you EVERY DAY!!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Daley

    I felt the synopsis in comparison to what the book was about is a bit misleading. While the book was still a good read, I felt like it was more a history of Tyson foods than anything else. While other companies were sprinkled in here or there it was predominantly all Tyson. I would have liked to read more on the the other companies that make up the meat industry.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amelia Waller

    Reading like a thriller, Leonard tells us the history behind the modern meat industry, and with thoroughness and fairness, comments on its effect on American farmers. If this doesn't make you want to buy meat locally or not at all, I don't know what will.

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