Last month, Tyson Foods Inc. announced its commitment to humane treatment of farmed animals by forming an independent "Farm Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel" made up of members that include animal advocates, academics, agricultural executives and members of federal food regulation agencies. As one of the largest producers of chicken, beef and pork in the world, Tyson Foods could have a significant impact upon the treatment of the billions of animals slaughtered on factory farms every year. The Animal Legal Defense Fund supports every effort to reduce the tremendous suffering of animals on factory farms, and we hope Tyson Foods is sincere in following through with its stated goals -- because make no mistake: unaccountable corporate "well-being" panels make for good publicity, but offer little hope for real improvements in animal well-being.
Chief among our concerns is Tyson's long history of saying one thing and doing another. From its use of claustrophobic, constantly dim-lit "broiler houses" for chickens and "gestation crates" for pregnant sows (banned as cruel in many states), Tyson's track record on animal welfare is far from exemplary. Earlier this year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a major consumer protection complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Tyson Foods for misleading consumers with false and deceptive advertising. Not surprisingly, Tyson has since strategically modified their language to call controversial gestation crates "individual housing," and stopped calling themselves a leader in animal welfare. Yet these changes are superficial at best. Tyson's website still claims that their suppliers provide "favorable" and "comfortable" environments for pigs and chickens; the truth is these factory farms confine animals in some of the cruelest conditions in the industrial agriculture industry. In fact, undercover investigations have helped law enforcement expose and prosecute criminal and systematic abuse of animals in Tyson supplier slaughterhouses.
Recently, five Tyson supplier employees were convicted of criminal animal cruelty after an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States revealed the kicking and punching of pigs as well as abhorrent conditions for mother pigs. The discrepancy between Tyson's public claims to be concerned with "animal well-being" and the reality of animal cruelty behind closed doors gives us great reason to be skeptical about a Tyson-led "well-being" panel. Consumers deserve to know the truth.
That is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund has asked the FTC to enforce consumer protection laws and hold Tyson accountable. "Greenwashing," false advertising that claims a product is more humane or environmentally friendly than it actually is, confuses consumers who often pay a premium for products labeled as more "humane." This allows corporations like Tyson to eat up the market-shares from producers whose practices are in fact more humane. Consumers lose, more responsible producers lose and the animals pay the ultimate price in their suffering. Only companies like Tyson win in this scenario.
Rampant corporate cruelty on factory farms and the deception of consumers duped into believing false claims concerning animal welfare highlight the need for the FTC to step in to hold industrial agriculture responsible for truth-in-advertising. With Tyson's history, it's clear we need federal enforcement from the FTC to protect consumers from misleading greenwashing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund aims to make sure animal well-being is protected in reality, not just in the claims made on product packaging.
Follow Stephen Wells on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stephenewells