In 1980, Donnie Smith, the current CEO of Tyson Foods, began working for the company. Most people can’t watch five seconds of an undercover investigation at Tyson. Smith has been watching, profiting from, and enjoying the business of slaughtering animals for decades.
Beyond earning more than $10 million per year, what is it in Smith’s DNA that allows him to choose such a horrifying and ruthless career and to stick with it for so long? He must really believe in it. But why? And how? What was his childhood like? Who were his parents? Could I get him to speak with me? How does he view animals? Does he feel bad about killing them? How does he explain Tyson’s dismal treatment of employees, animals, and the environment.
Tyson kills more farmed animals than any other company in the United States. They employ 125,000 people to participate in the killing. This is actually a business. With no regard for reality, Tyson describes itself as a company “with a conscience.” They boast on their website that the company “strives to honor God” and “serve as stewards of the animals, land, and environment entrusted to us.”
The claims are so preposterous and their actions so indefensible that the Animal Legal Defense Fund recently filed a request with the SEC to hold Tyson accountable for deceiving shareholders given the divide between their propaganda and record. Furthermore, breeding animals in confinement to kill them doesn’t make animals “entrusted.” It makes them enslaved. These are tortured animals, not rescued animals.
Smith graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. He began working for Tyson in “poultry operations” in 1980 immediately after graduating. Ironically, he wanted to be a vet but his advisor told him he didn’t have the grades. Talk about an advertisement for tutoring. His only job after college has been working in the animal killing industry. He worked his way up to CEO in 2009.
In a 2014 interview in Fortune magazine, Smith discussed his passion for religion. He said he carries his faith with him in everything he does. “My faith influences how I think, what I do, what I say,” Smith said. What religion supports abusing employees, trashing the environment, lying to shareholders, and torturing animals?
In response to a question about whether he believes his job at Tyson will get him into heaven, Smith replied, “This one will, because I did what the Bible said I had to do to get into heaven. Feeding people is a laudable purpose in life.”
Smith’s response shows a blind allegiance to the Bible without any regard for Tyson’s horrific mistreatment of animals, people, and the planet. His total failure to admit his leadership shortcomings and the egregious violations by the company reveal how detached he is from the reality of Tyson’s work. Further, and most importantly, he fails to admit that “feeding people” is possible without killing animals, people, and the planet.
In a July 2015 interview with Meat & Poultry magazine, Smith stated that the principles of integrity, faith and hard work that he learned as a child are the foundation of how he ought to live his life. What principles could those be? Was he taught that he should abuse and slaughter animals? Pollute water and air? Deprive, intimidate, and cheat employees? Deceive investors? Which parts of the Tyson business model are rooted in integrity? The Tyson shareholders seem to disagree with Smith’s accounting.
It appears that religion drives Smith’s ability to kill billions of animals without any regrets. He believes he is doing a good deed by providing food to people even though people don’t need to eat animals to survive and there is plenty of plant-based food available to feed the world. In fact, animal agriculture is a counterproductive producer of food as it takes more than a pound of food (the food fed to animals) and tremendous amounts of water and energy to produce a pound of food. Hopefully Tyson’s recent investment in Beyond Meat will teach Smith how to feed people more compassionately and sustainably.
I submitted a request to Tyson for an interview with Smith. It is worth finding out if more than his blind and misguided faith in religion drives his ability to run one of the most destructive and cruel companies in the history of the world. Only a gravely ill society could normalize Tyson Foods. Finding out how people lead such horrifying companies could help us prevent future Tysons and possibly show people like Smith a legitimate and more humane way to be stewards of the earth.