In his new book "The Meat Racket," agribusiness journalist Christopher Leonard investigates Tyson Foods, Inc., one of the nation's 100 biggest companies, which slaughters 135,000 cattle, 391,000 hogs and 41 million chickens each and every week. Tyson, the leader of the handful of livestock companies, in fact, controls our meat industry "in ways that raise concerns about the impact on animals and humans alike, while tearing at the fabric of rural America," writes Nicholas Kristof in an op-ed in The New York Times.
Leonard notes that most consumers don't have much of a choice when it comes to American meat:
"Even if Tyson did not produce a given piece of meat, the consumer is really only picking between different versions of the same commoditized beef, chicken, and pork that is produced through a system Tyson pioneered."
This means that they are likely to support the wealth of problems created by Tyson and companies like it -- namely, animal welfare issues, human health risks from the overuse of antibiotics and waste created by livestock and the creation of a system of institutionalized poverty and wealth inequality across rural America. Kristof points out that while these are adept observations, it's still not a viable solution.
But a starting point is to recognize bluntly that our industrial food system is unhealthy. It privatizes gains but socializes the health and environmental costs. It rewards shareholders - Tyson's stock price has quadrupled since early 2009 - but can be ghastly for the animals and humans it touches. Industrial meat has an acrid aftertaste.