Trending
MOST READ
SAPD Issues Thousands of Tickets for Homelessness

SAPD Issues Thousands of Tickets for Homelessness

News: Data and records obtained by the Current show that between January 1, 2013, and early October of this year the San Antonio... By Alexa Garcia-Ditta and Elaine Wolff 10/22/2014
Chris Pérez, Selena’s Husband, Faces His Past and Looks Forward, Musically

Chris Pérez, Selena’s Husband, Faces His Past and Looks Forward, Musically

Music: Chris Pérez never saw it coming. “All I ever wanted to do was play guitar,” he told the Current. “I never thought I’d be the subject of an interview... By Enrique Lopetegui 8/28/2013
Alamo Ice House Brings Hill Country to Downtown

Alamo Ice House Brings Hill Country to Downtown

Food & Drink: There was a special kind of draw at Alamo Ice House on a recent Tuesday evening. A handful of weeks after opening its... By Jessica Elizarraras 10/22/2014
Beaches Be Trippin\': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Beaches Be Trippin': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Arts & Culture: Let’s face it, most of us Lone Stars view the Texas coast as a poor man’s Waikiki. Hell, maybe just a poor man’s Panama Beach — only to be used... By Callie Enlow 7/10/2013
6 Sinfully Good Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in SA

6 Sinfully Good Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in SA

Food & Drink: Cheesy Jane’s. Multiple locations, cheesyjanes.com. If the name is any indicator, this San Antonio staple doesn’t mess around when it comes to... By Tommie Ethington 10/22/2014
Calendar

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Food & Drink

sa_20140312_covernobleeds

Alt-chicks: What goes into the trendy, tasty and expensive boutique poultry

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Chickens roam the pastures at Parker Creek Ranch


At first glance, Christopher Leonard’s The Meat Racket looks like the latest entry into James Patterson’s psychologist-turned-badass Alex Cross series. A shiny yet murderous meat hook in the foreground, blood red lettering and a subtitle that alludes to secrecy hardly brings to mind a farm. The non-fiction book, released February 18, also reads like a thriller, following the not-so-palatable history of Tyson Foods from its Depression Era roots as a humble Arkansas farm to a cost-cutting pioneer in massive farming operations.

But perhaps the darkest and juiciest “secret” part of Leonard’s book is the description of how current CEO Donnie Smith helped steer Tyson through an economic slump with an intricate way of cutting production, which encouraged raising prices and therefore profits. The timing for this had to be perfect, as Leonard points out. Smith and other top execs used software programs to predict how much meat would be purchased within a 180-day period by big clients (McDonald’s, Walmart). In the case of a projected surplus of fresh meat, which would lead to discounts, the company decided to cut production within the 180-day window. Prices for boneless, skinless chicken breast inevitably went up by 20 cents, according to Leonard.

“It’s not just that Tyson can cut supply, they cut it at strategic moments to manage supply and demand,” Leonard said during a phone interview last week.

Because Tyson and other big chicken companies control every aspect of production, from chick hatcheries to feed mills to slaughterhouses, there’s not a lot the government can do to stop them. Even antitrust legislative efforts during Obama’s first term went awry as lobbyists spent about $8 million to defeat a proposal by the president “which would institute new antitrust measures and curb the power of big meat companies” wrote Leonard in an essay excerpted on Slate. As he pointed out over the phone, the $8 million was solely for lobbying on this specific issue; this doesn’t include campaign contributions by big poultry.

As a former agribusiness reporter for The Associated Press, Leonard also went into the history of industrialized chicken production, how chicken monopolies were torn down through antitrust laws during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency—which allowed for competition and fair market prices—to the current state of big chicken where three companies (Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Perdue Farms) control half of the chicken market in the U.S.

Grim? Yes. Changeable? Maybe in the long run.

“There has to be tremendous political willpower on behalf of the USDA. Whether it can happen within the last two years of this administration is doubtful … but the blueprint of the antitrust laws are sitting on the shelf at the USDA,” Leonard said, referencing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It’s not rocket science, but there’s too much money to be made.”

In The Meat Market, Leonard also clued readers into the lives of Tyson workers and farmers under contract with the company, several of whom have lost their farms trying to compete with other neighboring farms as part of Tyson’s tournament system. In so many words, farmers are pitted against each other in a Hunger Games-type tournament on “how much feed it takes a farmer for his chickens to gain one pound of meat.” Farms deemed less efficient are essentially driven out of business, in the same way poor District 12 tributes would rarely be named victors.

Recently in Food & Drink
We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus