Tyson Foods, the largest killer of animals in the U.S., shocked Wall Street today when it announced it purchased a 5% stake in the booming plant-based meat company Beyond Meat. The purchase follows a series of criminal acts and other shortcomings by Tyson recently highlighted by its shareholders, including a resolution encouraging them to explore plant-based meat.
The investment also comes following a recent undercover investigation that exposed Tyson employees punching chickens in the face and kicking them like footballs. A recent Oxford University study that reported $1.5 trillion in healthcare and climate change-related costs could be saved by 2050 if people decreased their dependence on eating animals may have also spurred the decision.
“The quality of the Beyond Burger is amazing,” said Monica McGurk, senior vice president in charge of strategy and new ventures at Tyson. “We think it’s a game-changing product that gives us exposure to this fast-growing part of the food business.”
Given Tyson’s abysmal record on animal welfare, environmental pollution, and human rights, critics will undoubtedly and understandably meet Tyson’s decision with skepticism and summarily dismiss it as an opportunity to bolster their profits and curry favor with a public increasingly fed up with Tyson’s abhorrent business practices.
People may not realize that some of the plant-based food they already purchase is owned or partially owned by companies that also kill and sell animals and animal byproducts. Gardein is owned by Pinnacle, So Delicious is owned by White Wave Foods, and General Mills recently invested in Kite Hill. While this is the first investment in a plant-based meat company by a competitor in animal agriculture, it is not the first investment by animal agriculture in a plant-based food company.
Tyson’s move into plant-based food may have long-term benefits that opponents should consider. First, the relationship with Beyond Meat may show them more intimately the advantages of choosing to produce plant-based over animal-based meat and inspire them to create their own brands. Second, Tyson has tremendous experience in marketing and influence over shelf space. Their investment provides them an incentive to ensure Beyond Meat succeeds. Third, it is possible that as public pressure mounts for Tyson to end their unsustainable and cruel business model, they may be better positioned to make the transition with experience and contacts in the plant-based food industry. Finally, people who eat chickens and other animals killed by Tyson are much more likely to buy Tyson plant-based alternatives than they are to buy Beyond Meat because they trust and recognize the name brand. If the goal is to reduce the total number of animals killed for food, it shouldn’t matter which companies make the plant-based food.
Tyson’s investment does not absolve them of any wrongdoing nor should it change anyone’s opinion about their deplorable record of abuses. Animal and human rights advocates, environmental activists, and consumers should keep the pressure on Tyson to reform their business practices. The investment does, however, provide an opportunity to push Tyson in the right direction and expose them to a more humane, sustainable, and profitable business model.
Tyson Foods sees the handwriting on the wall: The future of food is plant-based. Their investment in Beyond Meat confirms it. How long it takes them to make the transition remains to be seen. History may record this was their first step.