The Real Cost of Cheap Chicken

The Real Cost of Cheap Chicken

Lexington Herald-Leader
EDITORIAL: the real price of chicken

December 28, 2001

Lexington Herald-Leader

No one who's watched the poultry industry in Kentucky can be shocked that
Tyson Foods Inc. stands accused of smuggling illegal immigrants
into this country.

If anything is shocking, it's how easily such outrages are rationalized as
long as food is cheap.

One advantage Americans enjoy over much of the world is supermarkets
brimming with low-cost food. When we stop to calculate the real cost,
though, our cheap food may not be such a bargain.

Poultry is a good example.

In Kentucky, taxpayers underwrite the industry through tax breaks and
government subsidies. The industry also shifts part of its financial risk
onto contract farmers.

Environmental risks are borne by the public, though the Patton
administration is trying to make the industry protect water from manure

Health risks? The public gets stuck again. The routine feeding of
antibiotic drugs to factory-farm animals is breeding drug-resistant
microbes. This, in turn, weakens the effectiveness of lifesaving drugs in

The poultry and livestock industries benefit from cheap grain that costs
taxpayers billions in farm subsidies that spur overproduction.

The industry's safety shortcuts are borne by its low-paid, under-trained
work force. Remember the two Kentuckians who died in a vat of chicken
guts at a Tyson plant two years ago?

Finally, the industry, which once employed well-paid union members, has
come to rely on poor Central Americans, who have few or no legal
rights in this country, to keep its production lines running.

Earlier this month a federal grand jury in Tennessee issued an indictment
alleging Tyson officials obtained false documents for workers who were
not supposed to be in the United States and that the practice was tolerated
to meet production goals and cut costs. Cheap food, remember?

The 36-count indictment, naming two corporate executives and four former
managers, was based on a 2 1/2-year undercover investigation.
Fifteen Tyson plants, including one in Henderson County, are implicated.

Tyson, the nation's largest meat processor, disputes the charges. The
company says an internal investigation led to the firing of four managers
and administrative leave for two others and that the wrongdoers were acting
outside company policy.

No matter how high the blame goes up Tyson's corporate ladder, it's
undisputed that meat processors rely on poor immigrants working for
poverty wages.

Cagle's-Keystone, which got tax breaks and grants through Kentucky's rural
empowerment zone, employed illegal immigrants, including underage
Mexicans in its Clinton County plant. In other words, children who speak
little or no English were working under conditions dangerous even for

So, the next time you're waiting in line to pay for a package of chicken
breasts, don't forget the price to the environment, public health,
taxpayers, agriculture policy, worker safety and U.S. border security.

Bon appetit.


Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.