Tyson Foods Needs to Get on Board with Animal Welfare
I’ve been a vegan for 28 years now. So it feels a little strange for me to be running for a slot on the board of directors of Tyson Foods, the second-largest meat company in the world and one of the behemoths of industrialized agribusiness. But that’s exactly what I announced today. And I did so with the support of a new ally—billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who has re-engineered some of the biggest companies in America.
There’s a quiet revolution going on in the food business with respect to the treatment of pigs. This year alone, more than 30 major food retailers—including McDonald’s, Burger King, Costco, Safeway, Denny’s, and Sysco—have pledged to phase out their use of gestation crates. The companies that have pledged to transition away from gestation crates so far in 2012 have approximately 95,000 restaurants, supermarkets, cafeterias, and other food retail establishments that they own or serve.
Some major pig producers are adjusting to this new reality. Within the last year, Smithfield Foods and Hormel have said they’ll phase out gestation crates for company-owned pigs. But Tyson is still resisting.
The company is not only making the wrong moral decision, but the wrong business decision, too. Any company has to adjust to shifting consumer tastes and demands. There’s no such thing as autopilot in a free market, and especially not within the food sector where there is robust debate related to animal welfare, food safety, the environment, and public health. Is it not clear by this stampede of companies rejecting crates that there’s no future for this extreme method of confinement?
If the management of Tyson is still mulling this question, then maybe the shareholders will settle it. Admittedly, getting on the board is a very uphill battle. I don’t know this world of proxy fights and shareholder persuasion all that well, but it is my hope that with Carl Icahn’s help, I can convince the shareholders that they need someone like me on the Tyson board—someone who will make animal welfare a priority, while still paying attention to the bottom line. Animals are at the center of the business model for Tyson Foods, yet it’s lagging badly on animal welfare and there is a widening gulf between its managers’ views and those of its customers and investors. If the company does not treat this issue in a serious manner, it’s going to lose market share, damage its brand, and become an outlier in the industry.
Over the years, I’ve worked closely with other major companies and industry groups to help strengthen their animal welfare policies. I’m eager to work with Tyson Foods to improve the welfare of pigs by phasing out these cramped crates.
It’s great to have a powerhouse like Carl Icahn in support of our cause. “I firmly believe that the position of HSUS regarding gestation crates is the right one,” wrote Icahn in our press statement today. “Eliminating those crates will both prevent cruelty to animals, and will improve Tyson’s business prospects by putting the company on an equal competitive footing with the bulk of the industry that is already rejecting gestation crates.“
Who can disagree with that, except some of the most hardened apologists for the status quo?
SECURITY HOLDERS ARE ADVISED TO READ THE PROXY STATEMENT AND OTHER DOCUMENTS RELATED TO THE SOLICITATION OF PROXIES BY THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES FROM THE STOCKHOLDERS OF TYSON FOODS, INC. FOR USE AT ITS 2013 ANNUAL MEETING WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE BECAUSE THEY WILL CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION, INCLUDING INFORMATION RELATING TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN SUCH PROXY SOLICITATION. WHEN COMPLETED, A DEFINITIVE PROXY STATEMENT AND A FORM OF PROXY WILL BE MAILED TO STOCKHOLDERS OF TYSON FOODS, INC. AND WILL ALSO BE AVAILABLE AT NO CHARGE AT THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION’S WEBSITE AT HTTP://WWW.SEC.GOV. INFORMATION RELATING TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN SUCH PROXY SOLICITATION IS CONTAINED IN EXHIBIT 1 TO THE SCHEDULE 14A, FILED BY THE PARTICIPANTS ON OCTOBER 2, 2012. THE PARTICIPANTS HAVE NO INTEREST IN TYSON FOODS, INC. OTHER THAN THROUGH THE BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP OF SHARES OF COMMON STOCK, PAR VALUE $0.10 PER SHARE, OF TYSON FOODS, INC., AS DISCLOSED IN THE SCHEDULE 14A. THE SCHEDULE 14A IS AVAILABLE AT NO CHARGE AT THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION’S WEBSITE AT HTTP://WWW.SEC.GOV.