Tom Brower, senior vice president of Health and Safety for Tyson Foods, endured a barrage of misguided rhetoric and interrogation from legislators at yesterday’s six-hour hearing at the Capitol, in which he argued dispassionately but firmly in favor of Tyson’s new vaccine mandate for employees. Today’s not good news for the big poultry company, either.

An investigation from the Guardian and the Union of Concerned Scientists today dives into the sweeping impacts of Tyson on the farmers in its community, the workers in its plants and the neighbors in its Northwest Arkansas base. The company’s market dominance, the investigation concludes, means it controls about 87% of poultry production in Arkansas and controls “almost every part of its supply chain, including the mills that process grains into animal feed and the hatcheries that produce eggs.” And that, the study asserts, is bad for everyone — except, maybe, the top-tier executives at Tyson. A summary of the findings:

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Its findings include:

  • Market dominance: Tyson operates almost half the poultry slaughter and processing facilities in Arkansas – the state with the largest number of plants and contract farms in the country.
  • Farm closures: A complex contracting system used by Tyson and other major processors has coincided with the closure and consolidation of thousands of poultry farms.
  • Employee benefits cut: Some breaks and bonuses have been curbed, including combining the previously separate annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
  • A points-based disciplinary system is used to pressure employees to comply with obligatory overtime which keeps many fearful employees working even when injured or sick.
  • Covid outbreaks: Measures to limit the spread of Covid have been inadequate or poorly implemented, resulting in multiple deaths at its Arkansas plants.
  • Misleading job advertisements offering new recruits $15 per hour are deceptive as most roles are excluded, according to employees. The Guardian interviewed workers with more than 20 years at Tyson earning below $14 an hour.
  • Speed and output targets are prioritized over employee welfare, hygiene and food safety, according to workers from three plants interviewed by the Guardian.
  • Cockroaches, flies and cricketsare rife in some plants and can end up in chicken nuggets and burgers supplied to schools, fast food joints and supermarkets, workers said.

The list goes on: noise pollution that’s resulted in hearing loss for employees, millions of dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions here in the state, a reduction of two half-hour breaks for workers to a single 20-minute break, an increasing emphasis on line speed over food safety in the company’s plants. Tyson’s plants were consequential sites of COVID-19 outbreaks during the pandemic, though Brower maintained during yesterday’s hearing that the company had invested significantly in “transforming” its production plants with an eye toward the health of its employees.

Read the full Guardian story here. 

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