Shareholders to Tyson: Be Nice to Pigs, or Else…

The conditions in which some pigs destined for Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN  ) live out their brief existences are tantamount to torture, and a group of shareholders has had enough. Today they filed a resolution asking that Tyson report on the financial and operational risks associated with the use by some of Tyson's suppliers of controversial gestational crates, which confine pregnant and nursing sows to such an extreme degree that they basically never turn around in their lives. Tyson isn't the first company to face shareholder activism on this issue, and is falling behind its peers in responding to animal welfare concerns.

The argument
The proposal -- filed jointly by The Humane Society of the United States and Green Century Capital Management, and co-filed by the United Methodist Church Benefit Board -- argues that Tyson may be in danger of losing market share if the company fails to respond to growing consumer demand for improved animal welfare standards. While it's hard to gauge how strong a signal consumers are really sending, it's certainly the case that many of Tyson's competitors and peers are eliminating some of their more egregious animal husbandry practices.

Costco  (NASDAQ: COST  ) finally committed last year to phasing the practice out of its supply chain altogether, after pressure from animal welfare groups that included undercover video footage of pigs' suffering in gestation crates. Of course, Costco is giving its suppliers until 2022 to achieve the phase-out, but better late than never. Chipotle's (NYSE: CMG  ) "Food With Integrity" platform includes a 100% gestation crate-free pork-sourcing requirement. As more and more of the world's primary pork purchasers get on board, Tyson's foot-dragging looks increasingly out of touch.

In its animal welfare policy, Tyson argues that various veterinary groups condone gestational crates, and that the company is committed to humane animal treatment. Tyson punts by calling on the hog-farming industry to accelerate research into alternative methods. Other laggards have bemoaned the supposed increased cost of existing alternatives, but an Iowa State University study found not only that group housing -- the alternative to gestational crates -- did not increase costs, but in many cases actually saved operators money.

The threat
Though there's been an uptick in shareholder resolutions related to animal welfare, so far they have not enjoyed much support. The Humane Society's resolution on gestational crates with Seaboard (NYSEMKT: SEB  ) last year only received 1% of votes in favor. However, other resolutions have had their effect without ever coming to a vote. The Humane Society withdrew its resolution with Sysco (NYSE: SYY  ) after the company agreed to eliminate the use of gestation crates in its supply chain. In this context, it's hard not to see Tyson as falling behind.

The proponents of the shareholder resolution argue that Tyson is failing to account for its customers' shifting priorities, and that this could compromise the company's competitiveness going forward. Research from the government of Canada supports the contention that consumers care more about animal welfare than ever before. In an October 2011 global market analysis, Canada's agriculture and agri-food research service reported the following:

Consumer concern for the welfare of farm animals has gained momentum alongside growing demand for animal-based products. Increasing food animal production due to growing, affluent populations, has encouraged further public awareness of this industry's linkages to health, safety, the environment and economic development. Appearing within more mature markets first, the trend is now global in scope due to the many stakeholders that are encouraging action on farm animal welfare.

Leslie Samuelrich, Senior Vice President at Green Century Capital Management, says "Tyson may be at risk of losing its market if it continues to ignore the changed economic landscape. Investors expect the company to act ethically and demand that it act sensibly."

It's extremely unlikely that this particular shareholder resolution will garner anywhere near enough support to become binding on Tyson. That's not the point. Rather, the company could be falling behind in an evolving competitive setting. That's just never good for any company.

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Read/Post Comments (66) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:00 PM, jholla888 wrote:

    I truly hope that Tyson and all of the other nefarious companies that abuse animals for profit will ELIMINATE THE GESTATION CRATE immediately. We owe our fellow Earthlings just a modicum of respect, don't you think? The cruelty in this world knows no bounds and it has to stop.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:11 PM, PlantyMcFlowers wrote:

    PLEASE TYSON, ELIMINATE GESTATION CRATES!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:11 PM, carrieaustin wrote:

    Please eliminate gestation crates. This inhumane practice has to go. I have boycotted Tyson products because of this and won't even consider buying from Tyson until the cruelty stops. I have also told every person I know about the practice and will continue to urge them not to buy from your company until you change your ways. I am only one but I have a voice and these poor animals do not! END THIS PRACTICE!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:12 PM, carlotta444 wrote:

    Gestation Crates are cruel !

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:16 PM, sandybl wrote:

    My husband and I refuse to buy products from companies that use gestation crates.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:16 PM, Sherethom wrote:

    Be nice and don't use gestation crates!!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:26 PM, Jenniferx007 wrote:

    I stopped supporting companies that use gestation crates 3 years ago and will continue to do so. The more I find out about these atrocities, the more disgusted I become.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:32 PM, PANACEAtwo wrote:

    My family will no longer buy any products from companies that use gestation crates, We also intend on telling everyone we know about this practice and urge them to not to buy products from any company that participates in such a barbaric practice.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:34 PM, Kitten143637 wrote:

    Please get rid of the gestation crates and any other cruel cages your animals are prisioned in. I truly feel what you are doing is morally wrong!! We (humans) are supposed to be above all others and we should know better! We are the keepers and watchers of all creatures great and small. From a religious point of view; God has given this kingdom to us. We are supposed to protect and serve not desecrate

    And abuse. If animals could speak or if we could have an ear to listen they'd tell us. If you had a heart you could look into their (the pigs and other animals) eyes and see the pain behind them. Please I urge you to change your ways!!!! All of us ecofighters will not stop until justice has been served. Do spare yourself the agony and change. How would u like to lay in one place for 24 hours? Your hips,legs, and arms would go numb. No one is asking you to close your doors. Just treat the live stock better and with respect! Thank u and I pray you will do the right thing.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:36 PM, 1CarolKoleman wrote:

    Tyson, I am a journalist who writes a column re: animal welfare. I have already written about your take on gestational crates and am keeping my readership abreast of your actions through social media. Change your policies and become a humane meat provider or you shall surely experience a decline in your sales as your customers become more aware of your practices.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:40 PM, JP2013 wrote:

    Eliminate gestation crates. It's the right thing to do.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:44 PM, sarahgee wrote:

    I stopped buying anything from Tyson about two years ago because of this horrendous gestation practice, which I vehemently oppose and think should be flatly against the law, with stiff punishment and even criminal charges.

    Please stop subjecting these poor pigs and piglets to this cruel and unusual treatment of gestation crates. It is evil and demoralizing, and this herculean and unspeakable cruelty needs to stop.

    As an aside, my family and I always bought Tyson products, even my grandmother did, which is probably why we did too. But, I have since convinced everyone in my family and many, many of my close friends to stop buying any and all Tyson products. Once people get a clear picture of what these people are doing to poor pigs and piglets, it is very easy for them to stop supporting such enormous and bizarre cruelty.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:50 PM, selow717 wrote:

    I oppose gestation crates. Please, Tyson, do the right thing.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:52 PM, Rachel3163 wrote:

    Tyson has built a reputation of inhumanity and cruelty to the animals it uses to produce it's products. if it has the name Tyson anywhere on it, I will not buy it. As more consumers become aware of the conditions in which the animals are raised, they, too, will refuse to support that kind of abuse. Please consider the animals suffering. It will affect your wallet.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 6:57 PM, jodyellen99 wrote:

    I don't eat meat but my husband does and he will NOT be buying any products from Tyson out of respect for me and the animals which Tyson abuse on a systematic basis. We have better, more humane choices!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:00 PM, Ritzschke wrote:

    There is no reason to treat animals so badly. It is wrong. I grew up on a farm, there is no need for these outrageous gestation crates.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:12 PM, Andreweatscows1 wrote:

    So when gestation crates are phased out, and piglet mortality due to crushing increases drastically, will you folks be screaming for the reinstatement of farrowing crates?

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:15 PM, rosiebowah wrote:

    NO animal should be so confined that it cannot move. I will not be buying any Tyson products until this changes...

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:22 PM, DanielleM1 wrote:

    I gave up eating meat many years ago due to the cruelty to these animals.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:33 PM, selbryan wrote:

    I have boycotted Tyson Foods products for over a year now and will continue to do so until their policies change. My husband raised pigs growing up. No gestation crates and no problems because there weren't any. The farms where we live don't use them--no problems. The animals are allowed to socialize and graze and go where they like within the pasture. Pigs are social, smart, loving creatures, but regardless of those facts, no animal should be subjected to such cruelty.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:40 PM, sammib wrote:

    no gestation crates ~ yes on buying Tyson again.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 7:48 PM, kimrez wrote:

    It's not okay to treat animals this way!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:07 PM, joannmm1958 wrote:

    I oppose gestation crates and hope Tyson does the right thing

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:18 PM, arielp wrote:

    Treat our animals with respect, be grateful for all they give us by doing the right thing and banning gestation crates!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:23 PM, mircut wrote:

    Please Tyson, eliminate gestation crates. Research shows that pigs are very intelligent and emotional animals. We have the know-how to eliminate this kind of suffering - now we just need the desire to be better citizens of this beautiful planet which we share with such a diversity of other life.

    Respectfully,

    mc

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:25 PM, freespirit00 wrote:

    I've already stopped eating pork, among other occasional meats! Not going to support cruelty of any kind to animals.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:26 PM, misskittygirl wrote:

    Please do the right thing for these animals that give their lives for us so we can eat. They have such short lives it's the least we can do to make it bearable. Gestation crates are cruel and not necessary. :( I will keep an eye on this and make my meat decisions based on your decisions.

    Respectfully,

    KK

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:33 PM, bubbalouie2 wrote:

    Please eliminate the gestation crates. I have stopped buying Tyson products due to the inhumane way the pigs are raised and treated. I also share my reasons for doing so with my friends and family, and I do what I can to convince them to stop buying Tyson products as well. I will not participate in this cruelty, no matter how much I love the taste of Tyson products. It has ruined my appetite, really. I will be waiting -- I hope you do the right thing.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:42 PM, AngelaD2 wrote:

    I will not spend my money on cruelty. EVER. Gestation crates are cruel.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:46 PM, Mimilover wrote:

    We used to eat Tyson products regularly...not since I found out about their use of gestation crates. It has been 2 years since I will even pass by Tyson products and when I see someone reaching in to the freezer to grab one, I am sure to tell them about Tysons cruel practices. I will not be a consumer of your products and will keep spreading the word to others. I find it horrific that any company would take part in this. How would you like to not be able to turn around? Have you seen the mothers crying for their babies? It makes me sick and it should make you sick. The world is changing and consumers are becoming more aware of what you do. I hope you make better choices and end the cruelty you allow. Pigs are intelligent animals and have emotions-just like you or I. Think about it. Until you change neither will I. If each one of us spreads the word to our family and friends, hundreds of thousands of people will no longer support this!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:53 PM, 3anines wrote:

    I do not and will not buy your products unless and until they are humanely produced. Gestation crates are a horror and should make an human being w/ a conscience or any morals sick. I continue to spread the work any way I can, and to urge everyone I know not to support (by buying pork) this practice. Your greed is disgusting, and your karma will catch up w/ you, in this life or the next. Perhaps your CEO and Bd. of Dir. will come back as sows living in gestation crates - sure would be fitting.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 9:03 PM, SarahinSedona wrote:

    I realize most pigs are not domesticated, but they are not things that you can use, breed, condone their suffering as they lie helpless, then gas and turn then into dogfood. I also realize corporations are people too. I heard that somewhere. So you people could think anew at the way you perpetuate the suffering of animals for someone's bacon burger.

    Seriously.

    Pigs, if they had their way, would be part of our currency exchange and would want to buy their baby back ribs back if they could.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 9:18 PM, LauraBellThacker wrote:

    I suggest before you eat pigs or any other animal, you must either go to a factory farm, slaughter house, or kill the animal yourself. Then, if you can still eat it, well.......The package of ground, chopped stuff desensitizes you. If you love dogs, cats, horses, etc., remember they are eaten as food in other cultures. Does that bother you? "Food" for thought.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 9:33 PM, savethepigs wrote:

    I am BOYCOTTING all Tyson products and I am telling everyone who I know to boycott Tyson. Cruelty to animals must NEVER be tolerated. Please call Tyson and make your voice heard. How dare they torture animals in the name of their business plan.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 9:55 PM, mizzwoods wrote:

    Cruelty to innocent animals is sick. Slow down and take a look at your soul if you can find it. These precious creatures are intelligent, they feel and they deserve to live just as the fat asses that relish in eating them do.

    Their lives should matter, their lives DO matter.

    As more and more people become aware of the cruelty these animals endure, I am assuming your sales will drop.

    Treat them with respect. Let them have wonderful lives. NO GESTATION CRATES, PLEASE!!!

    And above all else, please go vegan.

    Did you pork eaters know that pigs don't sweat?? That taste you all love, that salty taste is allllllll the toxins that you or I would have sweated out. Unless you're a pig, too. Then you would not sweat it out.

    Love pigs, love life. All life is precious.

    I already boycott your company, and I hope others follow suit. Don't look at living creatures as your profits.

    Look into their eyes. Do you see happiness, or can you see the pain and emptiness you have created? If you don't see it, you're dead inside and I feel sorry for you.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 10:08 PM, cmassive wrote:

    Please stop the cruelty. Its not just cruel its inhumane and unjustified. Awareness raised will ruin your business if you don't change your ways now and god knows the only reason why you treat animals as assets and assets alone is because of the almighty dollar sign.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 10:23 PM, JRZGRL1 wrote:

    Gestation crates are barbaric. There is no reasonable explanation for using them. None.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 10:32 PM, janine33 wrote:

    Gestational crates need to be eliminated. Pigs deserve a better life. I refuse to buy Tyson products until animals are treated with respect.As someone who has raised them I cannot bear to see them suffer. They are intelligent animals. Crates must drive them crazy. Have a heart and make a change.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:08 PM, sherine08 wrote:

    Delighted the shareholders are taking a stand to end this inhuman behavior. Animals that are going to nourish our loved ones and ourselves deserve to be treated with respect. Caring may cost in the short term, but it accumulates riches on many levels in the long term. Thank you shareholders!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:17 PM, ladybabz wrote:

    I will not purchase any Tyson products unless the company discontinues buying from farmers that use gestation crates. thank you.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:19 PM, blake3b wrote:

    Thank you so much for this article!

    And yes Tyson needs to get rid of the gestation gates! I will boycott Tyson until that is done and the animals are treated more humanely!

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:29 PM, AzureEye wrote:

    It's time to join the 21st century. Please pull those pigs out of those dark cages and pull yourself up out of the Dark Ages! When you do the right thing, it always comes back to you.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:35 PM, Morer080690 wrote:

    I will not buy Tyson Products until gestation gates are eliminated. I will also make friends and family aware so they do not buy Tyson products at this time. Thank you

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:48 PM, WitchyKitty wrote:

    My family and I do not buy products from any companies that use gestation crates. I will be sure to share with everyone that I know that Tyson uses them.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:54 PM, a701 wrote:

    Tyson company should be SO ASHAMED of themselves! THIS is the EXACT reason I became a vegetarian and will NEVER eat meat again! I will tell EVERYONE I know to NEVER eat from Tyson and the disgusting company as long as pigs are kept in this terrible condition! I may be only one person, but I will tell people and they will tell people until everyone knows not to eat Tyson. The way you treat people and animals WILL come back to you!

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:30 AM, Sangeeta01 wrote:

    Cruelty towards animals reflects our own decent into humanity. We need to be compassionate to all beings or we lose our ability to be sensitive to life itself. Please be kind to these creatures of God and be respectful to the miracle of life.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:44 AM, JasonPearl wrote:

    Get with the program and phase out gestation crates!

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:50 AM, StellaSutkiewicz wrote:

    I actively pursue products and service that are are cruelty free. Companies that are okay with gestation crates are NOT deserving of any decent person's business.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:51 AM, kaylu12 wrote:

    Not buying Tyson products unless the gestation crates are gone forever. Pigs are intelligent and there is no excuse for treating them so cruelly! Living without bacon, ham. etc. is easier than I thought.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:24 AM, cctctcct wrote:

    I stopped eating bacon when I found out about gestation crates.

    Shame on you, Tyson Foods!

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:54 AM, suscurran wrote:

    I avoid buying products that do not align with my values i.e., Apple, anything made in China. It can be hard sometimes, but I try everyday.

    I encourage everyone I know to buy humane certified meat available in all 50 states. Thanks!

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 3:22 AM, orlandok wrote:

    Tyson Foods,

    Please be kind to animals so I don't have to make extra stops on my shopping trip just to buy from a market that sells free range / humanely butchered/ non factory slaughter house meat. When I can't buy that, I go VEGAN!

    Thanks so much!

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 6:42 AM, Leahdepot57 wrote:

    I'm boycotting Tyson, and am researching other brands that use the wrong-on-all-levels gestational crates and boycotting them, too. If the bottom line is all that that matters, then we'll turn that black ink red.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 9:00 AM, wendafay wrote:

    It's foolish to ignore consumers appealing for the better treatment of animals. With social media such as facebook and youtube, people are choosing not to support companies that use cruel practices as they find out just what goes on. I will not support Tyson products knowing these practices continue.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 10:50 AM, Katiebugg710 wrote:

    PLEASE TYSON, ELIMINATE GESTATION CRATES

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 10:55 AM, dvierra wrote:

    You have been asked repeatedly to eliminate gestation crates and treat these animals in a humane manner. I do not purchase Tyson products because of your continue abuse. I let everyone I know of your abuse. When you stop, we will stop. It's very simple, we are all connected...it is scientifically proven. If we eat these tortured animals, not only are we agreeing with your practices we are ingesting animals that were in pain, tortured and uncared for...this essence feeds us as well. I don't want that in my body.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 11:36 AM, gavinsgama wrote:

    I have stopped buying tyson food. There is no reason, in this day and age, where information is everywhere, to be so awful and cruel to animals. No more excuses. It is all about greed! Greed will bring you down. What happened to farming! Caring for the animals that we consume in a humane way. Sunshine and room to move and grow. Being thankful to the animals for providing us with nourishment.It is time to wake up and do the right thing Tyson!!

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:45 PM, CrystalStarLuna wrote:

    Please eliminate gestation crates. They are very cruel, unsanitary, and negate the quality of the meat being sold.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:05 PM, waterpuppy747 wrote:

    Please, please, please Tyson stop using gestation crates to house pigs. I would never contribute my consumer dollars to a company that treats its pigs this way.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:55 PM, lwamp5230 wrote:

    Please stop with the inhumane practices of treatment to one of the smartest species on this earth! Gestation pens are the worst!! Animals need to move their bodies to stay healthy mentally and physically!!

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Linda de Miller

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 9:50 AM, EllenBrandtPhD wrote:

    Never, ever, ever trade or invest based on your political biases.

    You can - and in some cases, SHOULD - make trading bets based on things like upcoming elections or chances of new legislation.

    But those are decisions based on what you think is going to happen, irregardless of your political philosophy.

    Making trades based on what you would politically LIKE to happen, without a chance of its happening, is simply Hopium and quintessential Muppet-like behavior.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 9:58 AM, EllenBrandtPhD wrote:

    Re TSN: Remains a Market Uber-Darling, based on the Smithfield bid, which raised the Multiple for the whole group, and continuing record-low input costs, which will be reflected next two or three quarters, possibly.

    So it's a clear Outperform, but will move with the rest of the S&P nevertheless.

    We are at the stage where it is almost entirely in Institutional hands, and the biggest Institutions are in the process of offloading portions of positions to the long-termers not yet in, like state investment funds, pension funds, and mutual funds. In other words, a lot of people didn't see the Upgrade of Multiple and prospects coming, so it needs to become more widely held.

    If we were in a decisively Bullish period, I would say it had a chance of making it all the way to 34 or 35 - which it probably will do later in the year.

    Now, though, it is S&P-bound, like everything else except Oil, Gold, and the various Special Situations.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 5:53 PM, carlita2013 wrote:

    YOU GOT TO LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS, if you want to remain in business. This isn't a few people who love animals. It's the entire market becoming more aware of where their meat comes from. I have made it my goal to let my family, friends, coworkers know of your practices and other companies like yours who refuse to do the right thing and be humane to animals. More and more of my family, friends, and coworkers have decided to stop buying all Tyson products (not just pork) because of your refusal to change your ways.

    I will continue to use Tyson as an example of companies mistreating animals for profit until YOU make that change. It is up to Tyson now whether it can continue to be in business or not.

    Animals are not senseless things, they are sentient beings who feel pain and continue to suffer through your cruel practices, all for the profit of few at the top.

    ELIMINATE GESTATION CRATES and all inhumane practices or be prepared to be out of business.

  • Report this Comment On August 19, 2013, at 10:08 AM, geckohale wrote:

    We do not buy anything from companies and suppliers who torture animals. Period.

    Grow up, Tyson! Stop torturing pigs & chickens for profit ... or you will start losing even more customers.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2013, at 9:04 PM, Jmulligan11 wrote:

    I don't eat pork for these exact reasons. I would NEVER but anything with a Tysons label. I consider this organization to be entirely unethical. If you buy Tysons products, you are part of the problem. Until they are willing to shape up and implement higher animal welfare standards, BOYCOTT!! Consumers have the power to drive the change!

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2013, at 10:13 PM, Vabluegrass wrote:

    I will not buy Tyson Products until gestation crates are eliminated and "thumping" piglets is discontinuted. You must raise and slaughter these animals with dignity for me to continue buying your meat. I will also make friends and family aware so they do not buy Tyson products until you have discontinued gestation crates and thumping piglets.

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