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Tyson always seems to have an ace

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HAY MAKER

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Meat Tyson Foods
For a decade, conservative American circles buzzed with ugly rumours about the activities of the world's largest producer, processor and marketer of poultry and meats, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods. By the time Tyson was indicted in 2002 under the RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute, the actual citations would exceed the wildest speculation. In addition to charges that Tyson had systematically smuggled rock-bottom labour (in the form of illegal aliens) into the U.S. "to order" for 15 Tyson facilities throughout 9 states, the extent of the practice had effectively pauperized entire regions as el cheapo illegals elbowed aside American workers. The indictment charged that Tyson had conspired to aid and abet illegals in their quest for false documents. Disastrously, the company single-handedly upset the demographic balance of one rural area after another as newly documented illegals left below minimum wage Tyson jobs for better pay, thus opening new slots for the newly smuggled. The abysmal sanitary standards were the presumed source of waves of microbes, pathogens and e-coli outbreaks across the nation. Not surprisingly, Tyson is an outspoken cheerleader for irradiated food. A Tyson airplane pilot swore he had routinely dropped envelopes of cash off in Little Rock for then-Governor Clinton. Later, then-president Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy, resigned in the face of 39 indictments that he had unlawfully accepted gifts and gratuities from Tyson in exchange for preferential treatment.

Now that you know a little something about Tyson family values, ask yourself where a company like that heads when it's on federal probation? Meet Lakeside Packers of Brooks Alberta. Parent company, Tyson Foods. Lakeside has accomplished the same old demographic switcheroo in Brooks, but Canada's loosey-goosey immigration law has made the illegal smuggling sideline an unnecessary business write off: "About one-fifth of the population of Brooks is comprised of recent African immigrants and refugees [mostly Sudanese], drawn to the town of 12,500 to work for Lakeside Packers [where] health officials are confronting rising rates of HIV infection. Many of those who test positive for the virus are so concerned about maintaining their anonymity that they do not want to go in person to the nearest HIV clinic, in Medicine Hat. Counsellor Bettie Christie ends up sending them bus tickets in the mail so they can seek treatment at a clinic in Calgary. ... One-third of her 22 clients at the HIV/AIDS Network of South Eastern Alberta are African immigrants. ... Ms. Christie would like more funding to hire translators and develop programs tailored to the cultural needs of newcomers." (Globe and Mail, October 2, 2004) Wow, how did they know Canadians were clamouring for HIV-positive slaughter house workers? And it didn't take long before we found a recall of "ground beef products produced at the Lakeside facility in Brooks, Alberta on March 01, 2001 because they may contain Escherichia coli 0157:H7 bacteria." (Canadian Food Inspection Agency, April 22, 2001)

An August 11 story in the Calgary Herald notes other complications: "40 mostly Sudanese employees lost their jobs when they protested the firing of at least three cleaners not directly employed by Lakeside ... working conditions and alleged racism at the plant. ... They say they can't find work and have been forced to live hand to mouth or are in danger of depleting savings to sponsor relatives to come to Canada. ... [According to Tyson, the workers were fired because they left their jobs 'even after being warned of the potential consequences.' Sure enough,] when the Lakeside employees applied for EI benefits to tide them over while they looked for work, almost all of them were denied ... because Lakeside's official reason for dismissal was misconduct. Seven of the first eight workers to appeal the employment insurance board's decision won their appeals." The benefits of a Tyson operation in Canada don't end there either. If you'll forgive a bad pun, Lakeside is accused of making a killing on the back of the mad cow crisis, "allowing mega-multinational packers to almost triple their profits with none of the rest of us any further ahead. With stateside slaughterhouses shut to us, two American-owned packers, Cargill at High River and Lakeside at Brooks, are really the only places the local cattle crowd can sell their live animals. The packers slaughter and then ship here and to the States where boxed beef under 30 months old can be sold. Buy low, sell high and we cover the casualties with our cash." (Calgary Sun, August 5, 2004)

But Tyson always seems to have an ace up its sleeve: Some farm groups "want major meat packers outlawed from owning cattle, a controversial practice many say helps packers manipulate prices. Proponents of the idea accuse the meat plants of using their cattle supply to control what they pay to ranchers, by slaughtering packer-owned animals when prices are high, and buying and killing rancher-owned cattle when prices dip again. ... Cattle ownership by meat processors also allowed dominant players Cargill and Lakeside to get about $45 million of the $400 million in Alberta mad cow compensation funds. ... In 2003, Alberta meat packers directly owned 13.4 per cent of all feedlot cattle, either on their own feedlots or on custom feedlots, according to industry analyst firm CanFax. In 2002, packer-owned fat cattle accounted for nearly 18 per cent of the provincial total." (Edmonton Journal, August 8, 2004) Given that the price of beef never has dropped, maybe Canadians should insist on paying that little more if we can be assured that it means a decent wage for Canadian workers processing Canadian beef in Canadian facilities.
 

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