Going into this book, I had a pretty deep understanding of how to raise chickens (both for eggs and for meat) in an ethical manner- where they eat plenty of grass, bugs, and nourishing food daily with enough space to live a healthy and comfortable life. I have helped my parents to process meat birds (or broilers), so I also know how to ethically process a chicken so that they experience as little pain as possible. That being said, disappointed but not surprised that big chicken brands, such as Tyson and ConAgra, exploit their workers and their produce. Raising chicken ethically is not very profitable. As the book mentioned, the biggest costs in raising chicken are feed and labor. Even though $25 for a whole chicken may seem like a lot of money for an organic chicken, the profit margin on that bird is minimal. In order for massive companies to want to sell chicken, they are going to exploit workers and use the cheapest feed possible to make their profit margins much bigger and reach their monetary expectations. In addition, these companies alter their chicken by adding fillers and breaking it down into less parts to make bigger profits on the whole bird.
I thought it was really neat that the book gave a historical background on the chicken industry. It’s cool that Delmarva was at the start of the industrial chicken industry. I didn’t know that the big chicken brands contracted growers to build industrial chicken houses and raise the birds for market. Reading their stories was frustrating, because they are paying to raise chickens and going into significant debt doing so. It made me mad that these companies require expensive and unnecessary “improvements” to chicken houses that put these workers in danger of bankruptcy and financial crisis. In addition, these growers rely on the corporations to provide birds and feed, and the corporations are incredibly unreliable in their supplying of birds and feed. It is difficult to plan your work schedule and subsequent income when you do not know what to anticipate and when supplies will arrive.
Similarly, reading about the exploitation of workers was harrowing. Tyson led fierce antiunion campaigns, caused significant medical issues for its workers, and exploited the labor of unauthorized immigrants. Aside from the horrid worker conditions, the social security card scam that the company regularly does is gross. Workers also don’t have much longevity at these jobs because of the carpal tunnel, back and shoulder pain, and overall serious injuries that develop while working at a factory farm. In addition, Tysons has faced lawsuits over child labor, which was only discovered because the children were involved in accidents. As glad as I am that Tysons faces lawsuits for their gross negligence and worker safety violations, it’s frustrating that the fines they are forced to pay are simply reflected in the prices of their chicken at the grocery store. Instead of effecting change within the system, hard-working people end up paying twice for Tyson’s actions.
The chapter about environmental repercussions was interesting, because the Sierra Club has had a handful of lawsuits against Tyson’s and other big chicken corporations. Even raising chicken on a small scale produces a lot of chicken poop, and it takes planning to make sure that you don’t oversaturate your soil with nitrogen. These large-scale factory farms produce an insane amount of chicken poop every day, and there is also the issue of what to do with the heavy volume of blood from processing. Clearly, these companies did not want to find a solution that benefitted anyone but themselves. The byproduct from these birds that is dumped into lagoons has big impacts not just on ecosystems, but also on potable drinking water as the waste seeps into nearby rivers.
Overall, I learned a lot about the large-scale chicken industry and the companies that define it. While I was reading this book, I looked up the companies under Tyson’s umbrella to see which chicken nuggets I needed to leave alone (because the whole book made it pretty unappetizing) and I found that a large majority of the recognizable grocery store brands are attached to Tyson’s. What’s worse is that the companies not under Tyson are likely under ConAgra or other big chicken corporations with a history of exploitation and abuse.