Tyson Foods, the country’s largest chicken producer, fired a supplier after an undercover video was released Tuesday by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing, showing chickens at a Virginia chicken farm being beaten, stabbed, stomped upon, thrown down and run over by forklifts, according to The Washington Post.
Doug Ramsey, Tyson's group president of poultry, said the company terminated its contract with the farm and moved birds from the facility. Ten employees were fired after the video was released.
Ramsey maintained Tyson’s commitment to proper animal handling, saying the company would conduct a video conference with senior managers at poultry facilities to reinforce that commitment.
This isn’t the first time —or even the second — that Tyson has been accused of cruelty to animals. In 2015 and 2016, Tyson was in the spotlight for horrific behavior by employees at chicken farms. After a 2016 video showed Tyson workers stomping, kicking and suffocating chickens at several facilities, Tyson executive Christine Daugherty said although all of the employees in the video had been trained in proper animal handling, the employees ignored it. At the time, Tyson said it would retrain all its live poultry workers in animal welfare policies.
While Tyson apparently has a pervasive culture crisis to contend with, it faces additional pressure from consumers who are increasingly concerned with animal welfare, and are willing to pay higher prices to buy from companies that take on a more humane approach.
At the same time, protein-rich foods are in high demand. Chicken consumption is at an all-time high, with the average American eating more than 91 pounds of chicken per year. Tyson benefits from this increase in poultry consumption with Q4 2017 sales at $10.2 billion, an increase of nearly $1 billion from the same time in 2016.
For poultry farms, keeping up with demand means increasing production — and for some businesses, any method is fair game. In the video, Compassion Over Killing says these improper practices include feeding chickens antibiotics for rapid growth — going from hatchling to full grown in 45 days — housing as many chickens as possible in dark, small sheds with no light or room to move; and cruel slaughtering methods.
While Tyson has taken strides to treat its chickens more humanely, like in its pledge to eliminate antibiotics by 2018 and its plans to use gas to stun chickens before slaughter, it lags behind other companies. Burger King announced in March that by 2024, it would only use chickens that met the more humane welfare standards laid out by animal welfare certification Global Animal Partnership. Panera made a similar announcement about animal welfare standards last December.
Tyson might take a page out of competitor Perdue’s playbook. After cruel animal practices at a Perdue chicken supplier were outed in 2015, the nation's 4th largest chicken producer worked with animal rights groups. Last year, the company announced sweeping reforms, including housing chickens in sheds with more room and light.
Even if Tyson follows Perdue’s lead in making operational adjustments, the poultry leader will need to take a hard look at how to change the abusive culture that seems to infiltrate the organization and find ways to ensure its anti-cruelty commitment travels throughout the supply chain.