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“Small” Fraud by Tyson and Food Safety Net Services

This is a followup for my article “Small” Errors, Frauds and Violences. It discusses a specific example of “small” fraud.

Tyson is a large meat processing company that gets meat from factory farms. Tyson’s website advertises that their meat that passes objective inspections and audits (mirror) from unbiased third parties.

Tyson makes these claims because these issues matter to consumers and affect purchasing. For example, a 2015 survey found that “56 percent of US consumers stop buying from companies they believe are unethical” and 35% would stop buying even if there is no substitute available. So if Tyson is lying to seem more ethical, there is actual harm to consumers who bought products they wouldn’t have bought without being lied to, so it’d qualify legally as fraud.

So if Tyson says (mirror) “The [third party] audits give us rigorous feedback to help fine tune our food safety practices.”, that better be true. They better actually have internal documents containing text which a reasonable person could interpret as “rigorous feedback”. And if Tyson puts up a website section about animal welfare on their whole website about sustainability, their claims better be true.

I don’t think this stuff is false in a “big” way. E.g., they say they audited 50 facilities in 2021 just for their “Social Compliance Auditing program”. Did they actually audit 0 facilities? Are they just lying and making stuff up? I really doubt it.

But is it “small” fraud? Is it actually true that the audits give them rigorous feedback? Are consumers being misled?

I am suspicious because they get third party audits from Food Safety Net Services, an allegedly independent company that posts partisan meat propaganda (mirror) on their own public website.

How rigorous or independent are the audits from a company that markets (mirror) “Establishing Credibility” as a service they provide while talking about how you need a “non-biased, third-party testing facility” (themselves) and saying they’ll help you gain the “trust” of consumers? They obviously aren’t actually non-biased since they somehow think posting partisan meat propaganda on their website is fine while trying to claim non-bias.

Food Safety Net Services don’t even have a Wikipedia page or other basic information about them available, but they do say (mirror) that their auditing:

started as a subset of FSNS Laboratories in 1998. The primary focus of the auditing group was product and customer-specific audits for laboratory customers. With a large customer base in the meat industry, our auditing business started by offering services specific to meat production and processing. … While still heavily involved in the meat industry, our focus in 2008 broadened to include all food manufacturing sites.

The auditing started with a pre-existing customer base in the meat industry, and a decade later expanded to cover other types of food. It sounds independent like how Uber drivers are independent contractors or how many Amazon delivery drivers work for independent companies. This is the meat industry auditing itself, displaying their partisan biases in public, and then claiming they have non-biased, independent auditing. How can you do a non-biased audit when you have no other income and must please your meat customers? How can you do a non-biased meat audit when you literally post meat-related propaganda articles on your website?

How can you do independent, non-biased audits when your meat auditing team is run by meat industry veterans? Isn’t it suspicious that your “Senior Vice President of Audit Services” “spent 20 years in meat processing facilities, a majority of the time in operational management. Operational experience included steak cutting, marinating, fully cooked meat products, par fry meat and vegetables, batter and breaded meat and vegetables, beef slaughter and fabrication, ground beef, and beef trimmings.” (source). Why exactly is she qualified to be in charge of non-biased audits? Did she undergo anti-bias training? What has she done to become unbiased about meat after her time in the industry? None of the her listed credentials actually say anything about her ability to be unbiased about meat auditing. Instead of trying to establish her objectivity in any way, they brag about someone with “a strong background in the meat industry” performing over 300 audits.

Their Impartiality Statement is one paragraph long and says “Team members … have agreed to operate in an ethical manner with no conflict or perceived conflict of interest.” and employees have to sign an ethics document promising to disclose conflicts of interest. That’s it. Their strategy for providing non-biased audits is to make low-level employees promise to be non-biased in writing, that way if anything goes wrong management can put all the blame on the workers and claim the workers defrauded them by falsely signing the contracts they were required to sign to be hired.

Is this a ridiculous joke, lawbreaking, or a “small” fraud that doesn’t really matter, or a “small” fraud that actually does matter? Would ending practices like this make the industry better and lead to more sanitary conditions for farm animals, or would it be irrelevant?

I think ending fraud would indirectly result better conditions for animals and reducing their suffering (on the premise that animals can suffer). Companies would have to make changes, like using more effective audits, so that their policies are followed more. And they’d have to change their practices to better match what the public thinks is OK.

This stuff isn’t very hard to find, but in a world where even some anti-factory-farm activists don’t care (and actually express high confidence about the legal innocence of the factory farm companies), it’s hard to fix.

Though some activists actually have done some better and more useful work. For example, The Humane League has a 2021 report about slaughterhouses not following the law. Despite bias, current auditing practices already show many violations. That’s not primarily about fraud, but it implies fraud because the companies tell the public that their meat was produced in compliance with the law.

Elliot Temple on January 2, 2023


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