By Matthew Radman,
International Business Editor
Mixed reactions have surfaced as Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) announced plans to open a $320 million poultry processing complex near the eastern Kansas city of Tonganoxie.
The project is in response to a market wide increase in demand for chicken products. Despite Tyson’s promise to create numerous jobs in the Midwestern town, residents and activists have shown strong opposition to the corporation’s move.
The planned factory is set to employ 1,600 people to produce pre-packaged trays of chickens, a new division intended for grocery sale. The effort is projected to process 1.25 million birds through its processing plant, hatchery, and feed mill.
The massive expansion strategy is in response to an increase in consumer demand for poultry. Customers see chicken as a healthy, easily portable once cooked, and inexpensive alternative to beef and other meat products. Therefore, the protein has many trendy attributes for today’s food segment. In fact, chicken consumption for 2017 is supposed to hit a record high according to the National Chicken Council.
The protein powerhouse stirred strong opposition with the building plans, causing residents to speak out over health concerns, wages, the environment, and animal cruelty. Residents spoke out at a Leavenworth County Commission meeting.
Cecilia Pruitt, a pediatric nurse in the eastern Kansas town, mentioned that “Studies have discovered an increase in respiratory, neurobehavioral and mental illnesses in communities next to factory farms.” She also raised concerns over the capacity the town would need to support 1,600 new workers including schools and homes.
Kirk Sours, owner of nearby Tailgate Ranch revealed, “the average Tyson wage of a Tyson employee who lives in Kansas is $36,000. I do not see those folks buying many homes.” His point underlines how the plant may not be as good for the township as expected. He is also concerned about the town losing its signature Norman Rockwell styled small-town American feel.
Another primary concern regards handling waste at the factory. Production byproducts are stored in open pits called “lagoons.” This issue has even become a point of contention between Tyson and the city. Doug Smith, Chairman of the Leavenworth County Commission, has stated, “I do not support open air lagoons if this project goes through.”
Another major concern surrounding the poultry and meat industry as a whole has long been animal cruelty. Citizens may be uncomfortable with the idea of cruel treatment of animals happening in their backyard. As recently as August, Tyson made headlines for a leaked video of chicken abuse in a Virginia plant. Seven people ultimately got sentenced in that case. The Kansas residents fear a similar reality.
As one of the premier protein processing companies in the world, Tyson has tremendous power to do much good and potentially much harm within the small midwestern town.
Tyson employs 113,000 people worldwide currently, and 1,600 new additions to that number could do a lot for a small town. However, if the company is going to be accepted by Tonganoxie, they will have to be careful to address these concerns. In any case, with 300 acres already purchased, the corporation is prepared to invest heavily in their new division to satisfy the demand of hungry consumers.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 12th print edition.
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