Even though 1,000 workers at Tyson’s slaughterhouse in Waterloo, Iowa, have tested positive for the coronavirus, it has reopened. Tyson has said last week it would begin slaughtering pigs.
The company promised that workers would receive daily screenings and access to nurse practitioners, but many who can transmit the coronavirus are asymptomatic. At 2 other Tyson Iowa plants, 956 workers have tested positive. Meanwhile, “Millions of animals—chickens, pigs and cattle—will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities, Tyson admits.
This is far from the first time Tyson, the world’s second largest chicken, beef, and pork producer, has been in the news with food production scandals. Tyson had a sordid food production history before the coronavirus. Here is its rap sheet.
In June 2019, 36,420 pounds of Tyson chicken nuggets were recalled due to rubber contamination.
In March 2019, Tyson recalled 12 million pounds of ready-to-eat Tyson chicken strip products for possible metal contamination.
In 2008, Tyson was caught injecting eggs with the dangerous antibiotic gentamicin, linked to serious side effects. The previous year the government disallowed the Tyson slogan “Raised Without Antibiotics,” because the ionophores it adds to poultry feed are antibiotics.
In 2004, an internal Tyson memo revealed that the wives of two veterinarians stationed at Tyson plants in Mexico had been receiving about $2,700 a month “for years,” reported the New York Times. When Tyson executives discovered the bribes, the payments were simply switched to the veterinarians themselves.
“Doctors will submit one invoice which will include the special payments formally [formerly?] being made to their spouses along with there [sic] normal consulting services fee,” said a Tyson’s audit department memo. No one was charged in the scandal and Greg Lee, Tyson’s chief administrative officer who received the e-mail about the veterinarians, received $1 million and a $3.6 million consulting contract when he retired.
In 2003, Tyson pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act with effluvia from its Sedalia, Missouri, facility and agreed to pay $7.5 million. But before its probation ended, Tyson was charged by the state of Oklahoma with polluting the Illinois River watershed. Poultry polluters eject as much phosphorous into the watershed as a city of ten million people, said State Attorney General Drew Edmondson after bringing the changes. Phosphorus causes overgrowth of algae and other aquatic plants which chokes off oxygen vital to other marine life.
In 2003, Virgil Butler, a worker at Tyson’s Grannis, Arkansas, chicken slaughterhouse, revealed how birds regularly miss the blade intended to kill them and are scalded alive in the defeathering tank.
“When this happens, the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads,” wrote Butler in a sworn affidavit. “Then, they often come out the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they’ve struggled so much in the tank.
Such birds are so common that they’re called “red birds” in the industry and account for two percent of U.S. chickens according to the National Chicken Council.
In 2001, Tyson was served with a federal indictment charging that the company paid smugglers to transport illegal workers from Mexico across the Rio Grande, after which they were supplied with phony social security cards and brazenly paid with corporate checks. “This is a company with a bad history,” Rev. Jim Lewis, an Episcopal minister in Arkansas, told the New York Times. “They cheat these workers out of pay and benefits, and then try to keep them quiet by threatening to send them back to Mexico.”
In 1997 Tyson bribed former agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration Mike Espy with gifts to influence legislation in 1997 leading to his disgraced resignation. Tyson paid $6 million to settle the accusations but the two convicted Tyson executives facing prison time were pardoned by President Clinton.
Is it any surprise that a company that bribes federal officials and regulators, pollutes public waterways, mistreats animals and sells contaminated products would subject workers to a viral outbreak? Already two Tyson employees have died from the coronavirus. Z