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Making a Racket: Christopher Leonard Goes behind the Scenes in the American Meat Industry

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Factory farmed chickens have it bad, but in Christopher Leonard's new meat industry expose The Meat Racket, it's the farmers who get plucked. Leonard, a former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press and now a fellow at the New American Foundation, subtitled his book The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business, and he's not kidding about the "secret" part. When Leonard set out to investigate how four huge companies came to more or less dictate the state of our meat supply, he ran into balky bureaucrats and fearful farmers.

Leonard dug in and earned the trust of enough willing folks (including Don Tyson, the late CEO of Tyson Foods) to give him a thorough account of a poultry power-grab that eventually spread to pork and beef. Meat Racket focuses mainly on Tyson because they pioneered the breakthroughs that largely drove this transformation.

As Meat Racket reveals, these efficiencies of scale have often come at the expense of farmers and consumers. But the dubious business practices that Leonard documents have largely escaped scrutiny until now, because this extraordinary consolidation of power took place in off-the-radar places like Waldron, Arkansas, a small town with a big Tyson plant.

We spoke with Leonard recently about vertical integration, Don Tyson's laser-like approach to business, and the meat industry's reaction to his book.     


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