Industry raises ruckus over ‘The Meat Racket’

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Meat industry stakeholders are taking exception to a new book that depicts the American meat industry as an "oligarchy" that dominates the nation's food supply and stifles competition.

The Meat Racket, written by Christopher Leonard attempts to make the case that a handful of companies “have seized the nation’s meat supply,” according to a synopsis of the book. Leonard is a former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press. He is currently a fellow at The New America Foundation, a public policy think-tank in Washington, DC.

Leonard “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.”

But industry is refuted claims made in the book and defending against the book's unflattering portrait of American meat production. Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, Inc. and its businesses practices figure prominently in the book. For its part, the company said in a statement that Tyson has supported farmers and paid more than $15 billion to its farmer-suppliers.

"We depend on them and want them to succeed. Some of them have been raising livestock and poultry for us for decades, and in some cases, for multiple generations. They own and operate their own farms and either sell their livestock to us or raise our chickens for us.

“Our business is structured to meet the needs of our customers and ultimately consumers,” the statement continued. “We sell our products to retail and food service companies; however, we don't set consumer prices. What we ask for our products is determined by supply and demand. No one company is big enough to control the market, especially in today's global food environment. US consumers still spend a smaller percentage of their total income on food than consumers in most other countries.”

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, called the book a "hit piece" and said Leonard's book would have told a different story had he spoken "with any significant number of the 25,000 family farmers who are supported in this system".

“We understand that many people have questions about the modernization of agriculture and food production,” Brown said, “and we welcome those questions, as well as thoughts on how best to feed the world while ensuring our food is safe, accessible and affordable.

“But that’s not what this book is. It offers no solutions, no constructive criticism. It is just another hit piece.”
The American Meat Institute said Leonard's critique of the meat and poultry industry should be measured against the industry's successes.

“Although Mr. Leonard’s distaste for the modern US meat and poultry industry is clear, the data paint a picture of a successful and innovative industry that contributes much to the nation’s nutrition, economy and communities,” AMI said on its website. “Consumers in the United States spend less of their disposable income on meat and poultry than in any other nation in the world while enjoying the safest meat and poultry supply. The meat and poultry industry employs approximately 500,000 people directly and contribute to jobs in foodservice and retail where its products are sold.”
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