Brittani Hawkins AP English Language – 4th Fast food nationChapter 7: cogs in the great machine
Greenley, Colorado is a modern-day factory town where cattle are the main units of production. • Fast food hamburgers come from factory towns like Greenley. • Industrialization of cattle-raising and meatpacking has changed rapidly over the past two decades and altered how beef is produced. • Cattle are kept in feedlots and are fed grain to gain weight rapidly for three months before they are sent to the slaughterhouses. • During the Depression, Warren Monfort bought cheap grain to feed his cattle and soon became one of the nation’s first large-scale cattle feeders. • He bought cheap corn, sugar beets, and alfalfa. • He started his business in the 1930s with eighteen head of cattle, by late 1950s he had about twenty thousand. • The grain-fed beef did not have to be aged for weeks like grass-fed beef. • American grain surpluses provided inexpensive food for livestock and made cattle-feeding a standard practice in the beef industry.
Go West • Meatpacking industries were most often found in large urban areas • The Beef Trust was born in Chicago, the meatpacking capital of the world. • Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906 about the meatpacking industry in Chicago and its brutal conditions. • Severe back/shoulder injuries, lacerations, amputations, exposure to dangerous chemicals, workplace accidents (man fell into a vat and became lard) • Iowa Beef Producers (IBP) revolutionized the beef industry by shipping smaller cuts, vacuum-sealed and plastic wrapped beef • This allowed supermarkets to fire skilled, unionized butchers. • IBP became involved with organized crime and was marked as an example of how mainstream corporations could be infiltrated by the mob. • IBP’s domination of the meatpacking market left old-line Chicago meatpackers one choice: go west or go out of business • The west meant cheap labor and one by one the meat packers closed in Chicago and moved west.
Bags of Money • In 1979, union workers in Greenley went on strike and, when let back into the plant, disobeyed and sabotaged the company. Greenley was closed and its workers fired. • ConAgra conducted a friendly takeover of IBP when Excel – the second largest beef processor – acquired Spencer Beef – the third largest beef processor. • The Reagan administration opposed antitrust laws that would stop the giant meatpackers from joining. • ConAgra – the biggest meatpacker in the world – sells its products under the names: • Hunt’s, Armour, La Choy, Country Pride, Swiss Miss, Orville Redenbacker’s, Reddi-Whip, Taste O’Sea, Knott’s Berry Farm, Hebrew Natonal, and Healthy Choice • ConAgra’s Chief Executive Charles Harper gave every general manager a “bag of money” and expected them to make a profit by the end of the year. This caused some managers to break the law such as: • 1989 – ConAgra was found guilty in federal court of having systematically cheated chicken growers in Alabama – forced to pay $17.2 million in damage for the fraud • 1995 – ConAgra payed $13.6 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the company of having conspired with seven other firms to fix prices in catfish industry • 1997 – ConAgra paid $8.3 million in fines and pleaded guilty in federal court to charges involving wire fraud, the misgrading of crops, and the addition of water to grain.
The New Industrial Migrants • Most of the employees in the Greenley plant and other ConAgra plants are migrant workers from Mexico, Central America, and Southeast Asia. • Recent immigrants work for lower wagers and are less likely to join unions. • An estimated quarter of workers in Iowa and Nebraska are illegal immigrants. • These workers often move from plant to plant, giving the plants high turnover rates. • ConAgra, the largest private employer in Nebraska, wanted tax breaks from the newly elected governor or they threatened to move out of Omaha. • Despite the financial benefits IBP and ConAgra received, IBP moved headquarters from Nebraska to South Dakota. • “They [corporate tax-break beneficiaries] take whatever you give them and then, if there’s a better offer, leave you hanging and move on to the next best deal.” – Don Weseley, Nebraska state senator.
The Sweet Smell • Towns where meatpacking facilities moved always had increased rates of drug deals, poverty, crime and their own rural ghettos. • Lexington, Nebraska , after the plant moved in, had the highest crime rate in Nebraska. • Medicaid cases doubled, major distribution center for illegal drugs, gangs appeared and drive-bys increased • Lexington's population was over 50 percent Latino. • IBP violated the Clean Air Act in Dakota City because it had nearly a ton of hydrogen sulfide rising from slaughterhouse wastewater lagoons. • IBP agreed to cover these lagoons and is working on covering the lagoons in Lexington. • IBP held a public forum in a junior high school in Lexington to answer to public’s questions and let them know that the meatpacking plant would not foul the air of the town and that the lagoons would have a “sweet” smell, not objectionable.