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The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business

The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business

5.0 2
by Christopher Leonard

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Nick Reding
…Christopher Leonard's brilliant, in-depth portrait of Tyson Foods…is primarily a book of reportage, the culmination of Leonard's decade as a national agribusiness reporter…What separates The Meat Racket from every other book about food in America is that it manages to tell the story not from the safe remove of an outsider but from inside the fortress walls of Big Food itself, from the meeting rooms to the mega-barns. The result is a book that at times burns slow and hot with outrage and at other times proceeds at the ecstatic pace of a thriller.
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-12-25
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.
Tracie McMillan
“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.”
Wall Street Journal
"Gripping...The Meat Racket is a riveting book, and the picture Mr. Leonard paints is a disturbing one."
The New York Times Nicholas Kristof
“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.”
From the Publisher
"Filled with interesting history of how the meat industry got to where it is and how government has attempted to reign it in, the sad story is laid out through excellent journalistic reporting. Narrator John Pruden's fittingly somber tone conveys the gravity of the situation. " ---Library Journal Audio Review
Bookforum - Jessica Valenti
“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.”
Radish Magazine - Sarah J. Gardner
“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.”
New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant…a book that at times burns slow and hot with outrage and at other times proceeds at the ecstatic pace of a thriller.”
The Washington Post Bethany McLean
"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."
Strategy + Business
“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.”
New York Daily News
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Shelf Awareness for Readers
“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.”
The Daily Beast (Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2014)
"[A] scorcher of a book."
Eric Schlosser
“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.”

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

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.

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The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly researched and easy to read