Tyson Foods is the 2nd largest meat producer in the world. Here's why they're considering vegan products.

Tyson Foods will potentially be considering plant-based alternatives, thanks to a shareholder resolution sponsored by Green Century Capital Management.

If you haven’t heard of them, Tyson is the second largest meat producer worldwide and internationally the biggest processor and marketer of pork, beef and chicken, exporting the greatest percentage of beef out of the USA each year. It is among the 100 largest companies in the USA according to Forbes and, as an international leader in the food industry, its 2011 sales were at $32 billion.

Tyson Foods are one of the largest meat producers in the world

Tyson Foods are one of the largest meat producers in the world

It operates major food brands such as Sara Lee, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Ball Park, Wright, Aidells and State Fair, supplying chicken to Yum! Brands including Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Walmart, Wendy’s, Kroger, IGA and Beef O Brady’s. Tyson Foods has its fingers in a lot of pies.

At its 54 chicken plants, 13 beef plants and 6 pork plants, the company slaughters 42.5 million chickens, 170,938 cattle and 347,891 pigs per week.

A new approach to ethics

Despite being one of the world's leading meat producers, Tyson's ethics are pretty shifty. Fortunately this seems to have been brought to light recently and, alongside members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a bunch of Tyson Foods’ investors have developed 5 shareholder resolutions regarding environmental, social and governance policies.

One revolves around the water impacts of business operations, filed on behalf of the American Baptist Home Missionary Society, following a report by Environment America which stated that the company released in excess of 20 million pounds of permitted toxic pollutants to waterways in 2014.

Another focuses on board diversity sponsored by Oxfam America, with reportedly just one person of colour on their board. A third, on behalf of Mercy Investment Services, asks for lobbying disclosure.

The Humane Society of the United States sponsored a resolution focusing on animal welfare following multiple investigations detailing animal abuse within the company, most recently from Compassion Over Killing in 2016. Mercy for Animals has set up this petition to try to bring an end to the shocking cruelty.

Tyson Foods are not renowned for their animal welfare policies.

Tyson Foods are not renowned for their animal welfare policies.

Last but not least, one that aims to focus on the growing trend of plant-based eating. All shareholders in Tyson will be voting on the resolutions in early 2017, where they will appear on the company’s proxy ballot.

Plant-based foods are good business for Tyson

Regarding this final resolution, according to Marissa LaFave of the sponsor Green Century Capital Management, “the demand for plant-based proteins is skyrocketing, and needs to be considered and accounted for in business planning. Failure to see around corners and adjust to changing demands places the company at a great disadvantage relative to its competitors in the food industry who are already innovating in this area.” 

Green Century Capital Management, one of 300 members of ICCR, homes in on environmentally responsible investment, occasionally buying positions in companies that fail to meet their environmental standards in order to allow Green Century to promote important reforms.

Nadira Narine of ICCR said, “The risks presented in these resolutions are significant and impact a broad group of stakeholders. Shareholders want the companies they invest in to use their influence to minimize environmental and social risk, and to have adequate corporate governance mechanisms in place”.

The profit in vegan foods

In the past, companies could neglect complaints or pressures from shareholders. However, given the development and rise in social media, shareholders can communicate openly with the public and use this to push for change. Indeed, while Green Century focus on environmental issues, the group at Tyson are probably only really interested in profits. If consumers weren’t concerned about animal abuse, it’s unlikely they would make a point of firing or retraining workers regarding animal welfare (i.e. not to kick, punch and run over chickens with forklift trucks… how radical).

Similarly, if plant-based protein wasn’t making a name for itself as a significant rival to the meat industry, it’s questionable as to whether they would even bat an eyelash. The market for it has grown significantly for many reasons including concerns over the meat industry such as the health effects of meat consumption, animal welfare concerns, environmental issues and antibiotic usage.

Tyson Foods' main buyers are already moving into plant-based options. Taco Bell reports that its bean burrito is the 2nd highest selling item on its menu.

Tyson Foods' main buyers are already moving into plant-based options. Taco Bell reports that its bean burrito is the 2nd highest selling item on its menu.

In 2015 more than 100 plant-based meat alternatives were added to shelves and it is thought that by 2050 they could comprise one third of the meat market. The sale of meat substitutes in the US rose from $513 million to $553 million between 2010 and 2012; that’s $40 million in 2 years. Now, it looks like it is getting to the point where meat companies are being urged to take on plant-based foods. Ultimately, then, the resolution aims to determine how Tyson plans to tackle the threat the business faces from increased plant-based eating.

Tyson's affiliated brands have already recognised the growing vegan market

Some of the brands that Tyson supplies meat to have recently reported the success of their veggie options. Burger King introduced 6 meatless burgers in India, which have been so successful that they wanted to start selling them worldwide. Taco Bell also recently reported that their bean burrito is their second best seller with non-veggies also choosing this over the meat! Virtually any item on their menu can be made vegan by substituting meat for beans and they sell over 350 million veggie items a year. They are one of many other fast-food chains already offering cruelty free choices, along with Subway, Wendy’s, Chipotle and White Castle. Tyson, take note!


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