PCRM Files Suit against Tyson: Doctors Take On World’s Largest Meat Producer
PCRM has filed suit against Tyson Foods, the world’s largest producer of meat and poultry products, for misleading advertising about the nutritional effects of its products. The Arkansas-based company says its products are “all natural” and even heart-healthy, despite the fact they are frequently tainted with disease-causing bacteria and harbor nearly as much cholesterol and saturated fat as beef.
In a Web-based advertisement, Tyson encouraged consumers to “serve chicken as often as you like” as a part of a heart-healthy diet. While Tyson paid the American Heart Association to certify eight of its products, the certification does not mean that such foods can be consumed in unlimited quantities, because they all contain significant amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat. And Tyson’s other products—chicken wings, drumsticks, etc.—are far higher in both heart-damaging substances.
Tyson’s more pervasive “all natural” claim has appeared in ads in many popular magazines. But consumers who believed Tyson products to be “natural” might well be shocked to learn that its birds have been manipulatively bred over many generations into a strain that becomes obese within just six weeks after hatching. They are raised by the tens of thousands in enormous indoor enclosures where diseases easily spread from one bird to the next, sometimes necessitating antibiotic use, which is applied to the entire flock, whether diseased or not. In its January 2003 issue, Consumer Reports announced that it had found campylobacter, a potentially deadly bacterium, in 56 percent of Tyson products tested. Campylobacter is the most common cause of diarrheal illness in the United States, causing more than two million cases of illness and at least 100 deaths each year. Of the bacteria found on all producers’ chickens in the Consumer Reports survey, 90 percent were antibiotic-resistant, which means that some commonly used antibiotics are ineffective in killing them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the widespread use of antibiotics in factory farming has contributed to the developing problem of antibiotic resistance.
At least 86 percent of American consumers believe products labeled “natural” are safe, but there are few regulations to help shoppers differentiate factual nutritional information from erroneous marketing claims.
PCRM’s lawsuit was filed December 18, 2002, in San Francisco, under a California statute barring false advertising. “We want Tyson, as well as other beef and chicken producers, to stop deceiving consumers concerned about their health,” explains PCRM staff attorney Jay Ukryn.
To counter Tyson’s misinformation, PCRM launched a provocative ad campaign in USA Today. With the title “Natural Born Killers?” and a photo of a gang of newborn chicks, PCRM’s ad tells consumers what Tyson doesn’t want them to hear.
“Its time for Tyson to stop pretending that chicken is a health food,” says PCRM president and nutrition researcher Neal D. Barnard, M.D. “North Americans are eating one million chickens per hour, and we could hardly be described as ‘heart-healthy.’”
Within days of PCRM’s legal action, Tyson pulled the “heart healthy” Web advertisement. As of this writing, Tyson’s plans for further corrective action are not yet clear.