The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Businessby Christopher Leonard
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
An investigative journalist takes you inside the corporate meat industry—a shocking, in-depth report every American should read.
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.
In the heated debate on food safety and availability, there have been other serious tomes about the national leviathan farming firms, but Leonard, former national agribusiness reporter for The Associated Press, pulls off a stunning feat in putting the heat on the major industrial meat giants. The hardest body blows are landed by Leonard on Tyson Food, the nation's biggest meat company, whose production and distribution practices were previously hush-hush, due to a rigid code of silence and potential retaliation on those who snitch. Founded during the Great Depression, Tyson Foods fashioned a highly profitable empire through smart alliances with bankers, creating a network of local contract farmers and keeping them on a short economic leash while controlling the entirety of the supply chain. Most alarming is the portion of the book that deals with the shortening of the amount of time it takes to raise a chicken, going from 73 days to 52 days during 1955 to 1982. Although Leonard devotes the lion's share of this exposé to Tyson Food, he also catalogues the feverish lobbying, clever patronage, and masterful financial and political schemes among the other giants, all in service of providing product cheaper and faster to the market. Best for those readers who want to know the origins of the animal products they are putting in their mouths. (Feb.)
An engrossing report on the industrialized American meat business. Leonard, a fellow at the New America Foundation and former national agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press, debuts with a richly detailed examination of factory farming, which has reshaped small-town life for the worse in Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and elsewhere, leaving a handful of huge companies with "unprecedented control" over the U.S. meat supply—most notably Tyson Foods, the biggest, which has $28 billion in annual sales with $780 million in profits. Using Tyson as a window on modern meat production, Leonard shows how the company has eliminated free market competition through vertical integration, buying up independent suppliers (feed mills, slaughterhouses and hatcheries) and controlling farmers through restrictive contracts. The strategy, soon a blueprint for other firms, worked first in the chicken business, then in the hog industry (some 90 percent of all hog farms disappeared), and now threatens the cattle business, where a minority of ranchers refuse to abandon their independence. As the author observes, all of this occurred out of sight of most Americans, who from the 1960s to '90s knew only that meat was cheap and plentiful in fast-food restaurants and supermarkets. Now, cost savings from factory farming are slowing down. In the meantime, rural communities have been "chickenized," with farmers dependent on the company in a bizarre, near-feudal system that forces many into bankruptcy. Sometimes, hopeful immigrants take over abandoned farms, only to face the vicissitudes of the least-profitable corner of the corporate meat business. Tyson's "cost-cutting ethos and the lack of competition restrains income growth in rural America," writes the author, and strong lobbying defeated the Obama administration's recent attempts at reform. Leonard's book traces the rise of Tyson, from its creation by former fruit farmer John Tyson in the Depression to the chicken evangelism of his son, Don, who spent 14 years convincing McDonald's to add chicken to its menu and helped make chicken the nation's most-consumed meat. An authoritative look at a ruthlessly efficient system.
- Simon & Schuster
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- SIMON & SCHUSTER
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 3 MB
Meet the Author
Christopher Leonard is a Schmidt Family Foundation Fellow with The New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington, DC. He is the former national agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press and a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He lives outside Washington, DC.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
Honest and good research behind this book and thoughtfully written. It's important for everyone to understand how an oligarchy or monopoly like we see in the meat industry can be damaging and open to abusive practices.
Thoroughly researched and easy to read