Groups Want FTC Investigation of Tyson

Complaint Challenges Tyson Claims on Chicken Sourcing, Safe Work Environment

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday, alleging Tyson Foods made misrepresentations about its labor practices. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Two non-profit groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tyson Foods Inc.'s public representations about its labor practices. In a complaint filed with the FTC on Thursday, the groups allege the company has made "false and misleading" representations on its website, social media and company reports.

The complaint, filed by Food and Water Watch and workers' rights group Venceremos, asked the FTC to require Tyson to remove "misleading" claims from its website and to prevent the company from making such statements in the future.

The groups asked FTC to require Tyson to disseminate corrective statements in "all media in which the misleading statements were previously disseminated."

Among the claims made by Tyson, according to the complaint, is the company provides safe workplaces and sources chicken from independent family farms.

"As a large and growing number of consumers become keenly interested in avoiding purchasing products that are produced by way of unsafe or unethical labor practices, producers like Tyson have sat up and taken note," the complaint said.

"Tyson has set out to capitalize on these consumer values by making deceptive claims about the safety, health and wellbeing of their slaughterhouse workers and the fair treatment of their contract poultry growers. However, Tyson's actual practices are inconsistent with how consumers perceive its claims that the company provides a 'safe' workplace and sources from 'independent' family farms."

The complaint points to a record of chemical leaks and other accidents at Tyson plants, as well as the way the company has handled employee safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Tyson company policy essentially forces employees to come to work when they are sick," the complaint said.

"In fact, there have been countless cases of processing plant workers testing positive COVID-19, many of whom ultimately died from the virus. Tyson's lack of swift action and continued negligence have been the direct cause of these outbreaks, which have been common across the meat industry as of late."

So far, more than 8,500 Tyson employees at 37 poultry, pork and beef plants in seven states have tested positive for COVID-19.

"As of the writing of this complaint, more than 25 Tyson workers have died from the virus," the complaint said.

"Seventy-two family members of victims have brought wrongful death suits against Tyson. Even in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Tyson continues to refuse to offer fully compensated sick days to its workers."

Tyson Foods did not respond to DTN's request for comment.

Tyson announced on Thursday it was launching a new health monitoring program, including expanding its occupational health staff and hiring a new chief medical officer position.

The company announced it was expanding employee testing. Tyson said it already has tested about one-third of its workforce for COVID-19.

The FTC complaint said it is "virtually impossible" for consumers to determine whether Tyson claims about sourcing chicken from independent family farms is true.

"Contrary to Tyson's representations, Tyson chicken does not come from 'independent' family farmers, and the workers who manufacture its products are, as a matter of standard business practices, subject to dangerous working conditions," the complaint said.

"Tyson's practices are contrary to how a reasonable consumer would understand Tyson's marketing and advertising regarding such issues. Tyson's operations are not independent family farms. In reality, the company relies almost exclusively on industrialized factory-style operations for the production of its chicken products."

The groups cite a report from the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General that concluded, "large chicken companies" exercise "comprehensive control" over the farmers that raise birds for their products and restrict "practically all of the farmer's ability to operate their businesses independent of integrator mandates."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley