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How the Meat Industry Killed the Free Market: Why We Need Labels on Factory-Farmed Meat and Eggs and Dairy

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The dark secrets behind America's meat industry are enough to make us sick - and according to journalist Christopher Leonard, that's only the start of it. Our health, the well-being of animals and large swaths of rural America are all under threat by America's monopolized meat industry, Leonard says, and the full extent to which it's taken over should be making us a lot angrier than it is.

"It's been very telling to me how bothered consumers are when they learn how this industry really operates," Leonard told Salon.

"The Meat Racket," Leonard's new exposé, lays it all out on the chopping board: how virtually all of our meat is produced by the same four companies, led by Tyson, how those companies manage to keep the farmers who raise their chickens under crippling debt while ensuring that poultry prices stay high, and how the only real choice left for the consumer is to either partake or opt out of meat altogether.

Leonard spoke with Salon about how he brought these heavily guarded secrets to light, and explained why those who would defend the industry are apologists for a system gone wildly awry. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

First, could you tell us a little bit about your relationship to the meat industry? How were you able to get this inside view of what's going on in Tyson's boardrooms?

I've been a business reporter in the Midwest for about 10 years. I covered agribusiness for the Associated Press, and before that, I worked at smaller newspapers. And in that role, I kept kind of bumping up against the industrial meat system. I wrote my first story about Tyson foods in 1999 for a newspaper, and the more I encountered this system, the more I became fascinated with it. It's a remarkable experience to walk into one of these giant factory farms and see 75,000 chickens on the ground in front of you.

But the seeds for this book really came in 2004, when I went down to this little town of Waldron, Arkansas, to report on chicken farmers down there. And I was just absolutely stunned by just how much power Tyson had over these farmers, and how powerful it was in this little town. And I wanted to find out how we got to this point, where these companies can act like virtual dictators in these towns where they operate, where they have regional monopolies. And I wanted to also understand how this system really works from the inside.   
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