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The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business Kindle Edition
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How much do you know about the meat on your dinner plate? Journalist Christopher Leonard spent more than a decade covering the country’s biggest meat companies, including four years as the national agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press. Now he delivers the first comprehensive look inside the industrial meat system, exposing how a handful of companies executed an audacious corporate takeover of the nation’s meat supply.
Leonard’s revealing account shines a light on the inner workings of Tyson Foods, a pioneer of the industrial system that dominates the market. You’ll learn how the food industry got to where it is today, and how companies like Tyson have escaped the scrutiny they deserve. You’ll discover how these companies are able to raise meat prices for consumers while pushing down the price they pay to farmers. And you’ll even see how big business and politics have derailed efforts to change the system, from a years-long legal fight in Iowa to the Obama administration’s recent failed attempt to pass reforms.
Important, timely, and explosive, The Meat Racket is an unvarnished portrait of the food industry that now dominates America’s heartland.
"Only a very good writer could turn a story about chickens, hogs and cattle into a thriller, and Leonard is that. He brings his characters to life. . . . The book is a scary portrait of capitalism run amok." (Bethany McLean, The Washington Post)
"[A] scorcher of a book." (The Daily Beast (Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2014))
"Gripping...The Meat Racket is a riveting book, and the picture Mr. Leonard paints is a disturbing one." (Wall Street Journal)
“Leonard’s book argues that a handful of companies, led by Tyson, control our meat industry in ways that raise concerns about the impact on animals and humans alike, while tearing at the fabric of rural America.” (Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times)
“One of the best books of investigative reporting that I’ve seen in quite a while…if you think muckraking is dead or even on its last legs, The Meat Racket is proof positive that it’s very much alive. The big question is whether or not there are any reformers and regulators left who have the will and the strength to pick up the ball and run with it.” (Strategy + Business)
“A fascinating look at what has happened in the past decades to the meat business as huge companies essentially staged a takeover while no one, except struggling farmers, paid mind.” (New York Daily News)
“In his eye-opener to the inner workings of the corporations that control and manipulate the nation’s meat supply, journalist Leonard reveals how these vertically integrated behemoths operate to the detriment of both farmers, who do the hard and risky work of raising animals, and consumers, who have actually fewer true choices when shopping in the grocery store or ordering at the local fast-food franchise.” (Booklist)
“A minor miracle of reporting. Tyson isn’t the sort of company that likes to show reporters around its operations…Leonard managed to penetrate that secrecy, and has painted an intimate picture of the company and the people who made it.” (Grist)
“An engrossing report on the industrialized American meat business…a richly detailed examination of factory farming, which has reshaped small-town life for the worse. . . . An authoritative look at a ruthlessly efficient system.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Cruelty, greed, and monopoly power--that is what Christopher Leonard has found at the heart of America's meat packing industry. This book offers a devastating portrait of an industry's irresponsible behavior.” (Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation )
“Leonard’s primary concern is the grim and gripping story of how American meat went industrial. But he also spins a nuanced tale of how the family farm was America’s first small business—and what we’ve lost by letting it go. A fascinating read.” (Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating )
“This eye-opening investigation into the semi-shady practices governing one of the nation's fundamental industries will make readers question how these megacompanies were ever allowed to grow so large and powerful…. A compelling in-depth exposé of the concentration of wealth and power at the heart of the U.S. meat industry.” (Shelf Awareness for Readers)
"Leonard, former national agribusiness reporter for The Associated Press, pulls off a stunning feat in putting the heat on the major industrial meat giants." (Publishers Weekly)
“A meticulous exposé of the meat industry… Leonard, whether he means to or not, is also telling a broader story about American business, consumerism, and—most of all—greed… What makes The Meat Racket stand out is Leonard’s superb storytelling and his clear passion for the topic…He is a man on a mission—and that is clearly the best kind of reporter to write a book like this.” (Jessica Valenti Bookforum)
“I will admit when I picked up this book, it was more with the sense that it was something I should read than something that would be a page turner. And yet it immediately drew me in. Christopher Leonard's power is the ability to capture the human lives caught within the system, particularly the farmers but also the employees who helped build the corporations… this book is a compelling reminder that we all have a stake in how this business is conducted.” (Sarah J. Gardner Radish Magazine)
About the Author
- ASIN : B00DX0F4J6
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (February 18, 2014)
- Publication date : February 18, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 2449 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 386 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 145164583X
- Best Sellers Rank: #443,066 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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This is a remarkably insightful book, reflecting the author Christopher Leonard's deep and careful research and skilled writing. The book covers much more than just the evolution of the Tyson chicken empire, though that is the inspiration of the work. Don Tyson was the business genius who led his family firm to the heights of power and depths of iniquity which Leonard explains so clearly, and which inspired so many other businesses. Leonard capped his research by interviewing Don Tyson himself.
In the meat business, although the "farmers" contribute both financial and human capital essential to the overall enterprise they do not share in its profits. Each firm like Tyson owns all the elements of its overall business which have economies of scale (feed-mixing, hatchery, slaughter, marketing) but delegates the labor-intensive step of actually raising the animals on capital-intensive farmsteads to hapless peons. The peons do not ask for overtime or better wages as employees would, they do not shirk, they force their children to labor without pay-- because they think of themselves as "independent farmers," for a few years at least. They are not independent at all-- firms like Tyson supply the chicks, the feed, the medicines-- everything-- and take the grown chickens away every few months. Since the farmers don't own the animals they raise they cannot sell them into the market but must take whatever payment-- large or small-- their sponsoring firm decides to give them. They can't even quit easily because they owe huge mortgages on their farms, which Tyson and similar firms actually steer them to get.
The concept and practice of chickenization has spread beyond the raising of meat animals. It is essentially how so-called "sharing" businesses like Airbnb or Uber and various similar competitors work.
Airbnb owns all the good parts of its business. It does not tie up capital in dwelling rooms-- hosts supply those using mortgages for which they are solely liable (Airbnb refers new hosts to lenders for a commission)-- and does not employ housekeepers or maintenance staff-- as "independent businessmen" the hosts clean and patch. Uber is similar-- drivers buy the cars that Uber chooses with loans arranged by Uber, then to pay off those loans they drive Uber's customers around when Uber tells them to in return for payments set unilaterally by Uber (plus occasional tips). The drivers fuel and maintain the cars and pay all the taxes on them. Like chicken farmers, Airbnb hosts and Uber drivers contribute financial and human capital essential to the overall business, they work without minimum or overtime wages for payments set unilaterally by chickenizing firms, but they do not share in the overall profits.
Competitively, Airbnb destroys hotels and Uber destroys taxi firms because chickenization drives down capital and labor costs so effectively. What firm can afford a hundred-million-dollar mortgage on a hotel when a competitor uses a ragtag army of hosts to provide an equivalent number of rooms using independent capital? Worse, what firm can afford to employ housekeepers or drivers, with all the overhead of managing them and accepting liability for their actions, when a competitor uses "independent businessmen" who work furiously without supervision because they're desperate to make their next loan payment?
Reading "The Meat Racket" will teach you how to recognize chickenization in any industry (it's common in fast-food and small-retail franchising). That alone would justify the book, but the story Leonard tells, of the plight of the farmers, the history of the Tyson firm and the other firms which emulated it, the remarkable lives of Don Tyson, his father, and the people around them, is so interesting that you can read the book for sheer entertainment. For either or both, read this book.
Not surprising the essence of this book is the consolidation and exploitation of the many thousands of "farmers" who were abetted by a corrupt Agricultural system that allowed farmers to borrow millions of dollars to set up chicken/hog facilities in which they owned no animals, only the facilities and owed the bank. It is clear that specifically Tyson controlled every step in the business. From the eggs, to the chickens/hogs, feed, "inspectors" and payment to those who bought into the American dream. Systematically the farmers were slowly destroyed when the costs of operating their farms costs far more than the reimbursements from Tyson and their very few competitors. The oligarchy system does not discriminate between American farmers and the immigrants, mainly those from Laos. Banks loaned millions upon millions without risk (government backed Agricultural loans) to anyone who was willing to work as serfs. Story after story documented the crushing debt and eventual bankruptcy of almost anyone who participated in Tyson's rigged system. It did not and probably still does not matter how "modern" the farms were and are. Tyson controls the entire process. If chickens are diseased and die, if the food is tainted, if the "tournament system" is rigged and if you dare challenge Tyson, there is no chance of succeeding in business with them.
Due to the massive amount of lobbying and campaign contributions, nothing is going to change. It is virtually impossible to compete in the chicken/hog and now beef industry due to the half dozen major players and their integrated model. The ability to control production, thus prices paid by the consumer, should be a reminder of the consolidation of the telephone industry, the oil industry and the other oligarchs who dominate various sectors of our economy. All the while the concept of family "farms" is an anarchism of the glory days Thomas Jefferson spoke about several centuries ago. The industry is rigged for everyone but the mega corporations to fail. Not even a concerted effort by the current administration and savvy experts could corral the power of these mega food producers. The author does not spend a lot of time on the quality, or lack thereof, of the products that dominate our stores, fast food restaurants and institutions, but my hunch is if the Tyson's of this country control every step of the process, quality is probably not high on their priority list, production and lots of it come first, second and third.
Full disclosure, I discontinued eating pork, chicken, beef and fish forty years ago. I am reminded that my maternal grandparents were farmers, my grandmother also taught school. They raised a herd of approximately two dozen calves per year and sold them on the open market 25 miles from their farm each fall. They would raise a couple of hogs for butchering as well as one calve. They would freeze the meat and eat it throughout the year. No worries about antibiotics or steroids. I know the use of growth hormones has grown exponentially over the last half century. And with toothless oversight from the government, this practice goes on without any fear of prosecution for the dangerous chemicals used to fatten up the doomed animals. The only concern is how fast can the animals be fattened for the best return to the oligarchs who control our animal based food diet.
This is one of the best written investigative books I have had the pleasure to read in the past dozen years. Not "The Jungle", but by writing this book, Mr. Leonard has shown some things have not changed. Buyer beware and if considering doing business with the mega corporations that control these three industries, this is a cautionary tale not to be taken lightly...or at all.
May 13, 2013
p.s. If you see one and two star reviews, there is a good chance that the reviewer has not read the book or is affiliated with the Tyson's of the food chain.