Tyson Foods adding video cameras to poultry operations

Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

From CBS MoneyWatch:

Tyson Foods is relying on video cameras to audit its operations, which it says isn't in response to previous "gotcha" moments but under a corporate philosophy that notes its role as a steward for millions of chickens.

The Springfield, Arkansas-based meat producer last month hired its first chief sustainability officer and on Wednesday will announce a series of animal well-being initiatives. It's also considering new ways of slaughtering birds. In an interview Tuesday, Justin Whitmore said that while abuses at myriad companies have been exposed through secretly recorded video, taking action now prevents having to react later.

"We want to learn from the opportunities and the challenges we face," he said, seven weeks after taking his post. "If we see something come up in our system, we'll look to have the appropriate measures in place to ensure they don't recur."

Tyson (TSN) last August fired 10 workers after secretly recorded video compiled by an animal rights group showed chickens being crushed or swung by their legs and wings. Tyson terminated a contract with a farmer a year earlier after another group released video showing workers standing on birds' heads to break their necks. Over the past year, Hormel Foods has hired third-party auditors to review hog farms after video showed some animals in very tight quarters and another animal being slammed to the floor.

Lora Wright, Tyson's director of animal well-being, said Tuesday that over the past year, Tyson has installed the industry's largest third-party monitoring system — with off-site auditors reviewing operations at Tyson's 33 poultry processing plants across the U.S. and concentrating on areas where workers handle live animals. The company also has trained nearly five dozen animal well-being specialists like Stacy Barton, who grew up on a poultry farm.

"We're making sure the birds are being handled properly and treated with respect and care in every step of the process," he said Tuesday outside a 120,000-bird operation near Plumerville. The well-being officers are also trained on how cattle and hogs should be handled. Some of their visits are announced; others are not.

Poultry workers have also alleged mistreatment at the hands of meat producers like Tyson's. A report from Oxfam America found the nation's roughly 250,000 poultry workers are routinely denied bathroom breaks, leading some to wear diapers and others to not drink liquids.

The U.S. arm of the U.K.-based global development group called on Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Pride (PPC), Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farms, which together control nearly 60 percent of America's poultry market, to improve workers' conditions.

"It's just basic human dignity, the right to be able to use the bathroom when you need to, as opposed to having to hold it for two hours until the next break, or worse, having to wear diapers or urinating or defecating on yourself," Hunter Ogletree, an organizer at the Western North Carolina Workers' Center, told CBS MoneyWatch last year. 

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