Workers leave the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind., on May 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

As the coronavirus pandemic batters entire industries, one of America’s favorite sectors has found itself particularly vulnerable: meat.

The US could be facing a meat shortage and higher prices as meat processing plants across the country have been forced to temporarily close because of coronavirus outbreaks. More than a dozen of beef, chicken, and pork plants closed in April due to outbreaks, per The Wall Street Journal.

Tyson Foods, which claims to produce approximately 20% of the beef, pork, and chicken in the US and saw $42.4 billion in sales in 2019, was forced to temporarily close some of its meat plants in April and May due to coronavirus outbreaks. Business Insider’s Kate Taylor reports that, according to a BI analysis, at least 4,585 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths have been linked to Tyson Foods.

Gary Mickelson, a Tyson Foods spokesperson, declined to comment for this story on the number of cases and deaths but said the company takes the safety of its employees very seriously and that the “vast majority” of its facilities have had no cases.

“At some locations, we have been conducting testing of team members and will not hesitate to idle any plant to conduct additional deep cleaning and sanitization of the entire facility,” Mickelson told Business Insider. 

Tyson Foods, which is today one of the top three largest meat-producing corporations in the world, has been family-run for three generations, making the Tyson family one of the wealthiest in the US. The company’s chairman, John H. Tyson, and his family are worth $2 billion, per Forbes.

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Here’s a look at the massive meat company and the billionaire family behind it.

Tyson Foods is an Arkansas-based meat company that owns brands including Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, and Aidells.

Hillshire Brands Acquisition

Tyson Foods

The company, which employs 141,000 people across the US, reported $42.4 billion in sales in 2019.

The business has been family-run for three generations, making the Tyson family one of the wealthiest in the US.

John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods.

Tyson Foods

The company’s chairman, John H. Tyson, and his family are worth $2 billion, per Forbes.

In 2015, the Tysons made Forbes’ Richest Families list with a fortune of $3.3 billion, alongside families like the Waltons, the Kochs, and the Sacklers. 

The wealth of America’s richest families varies widely. The Walton family, heir to the Walmart empire, is worth upwards of $155 billion. The Koch family fortune is more than $100 million, while the Sackler family, whose company makes the controversial prescription painkiller OxyContin, is worth an estimated $13 billion.

The company has made headlines throughout April and May for coronavirus outbreaks at its US meat processing plants.

Workers leave the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind., on May 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

At one of the company’s pork processing plants in Logansport, Indiana, nearly 900 employees tested positive for the virus, forcing the plant to close on April 25 for nearly two weeks. Another plant in Waterloo, Iowa, was closed for two weeks after more than 1,000 workers tested positive. It reopened on May 7.

Business Insider’s Kate Taylor reports that in total, at least 4,585 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths have been linked to Tyson Foods.

Meat packing plants are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of the virus because of the cold, damp, and crowded work stations, according to Bloomberg.

Gary Mickelson, a Tyson Foods spokesperson, declined to comment on the number of cases and deaths but said the company takes the safety of its employees very seriously and that the “vast majority” of facilities across the US have had no cases.

A Tyson Foods employee puts on a second protective mask outside of the company’s meat processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 22, 2020.

Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY NETWORK via REUTERS

“At some locations, we have been conducting testing of team members and will not hesitate to idle any plant to conduct additional deep cleaning and sanitization of the entire facility,” Mickelson told Business Insider. 

Other enhanced safety precautions include health screenings for every worker each time they arrive at the facility, requiring facial coverings, and assigning some employees to monitor and enforce proper social distancing.

All employees who have tested positive will remain on sick leave until they meet CDC health requirements to return to work, Mickelson said.

The company recently upped its short-term disability coverage from 60% of a worker’s normal pay to 90% until June 30. Business Insider previously reported that Tyson Foods offers short-term disability leave, but not paid sick leave, to workers being treated for coronavirus. 

On April 26, Tyson Foods took out a full page advertisement in major newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, warning that the US food supply chain is “breaking.”

Workstation divider at Tyson Foods’ Chick N Quick plant in Rogers, Ark. April 24, 2020

Tyson Foods

“The food supply chain is breaking,” chairman John H. Tyson wrote in the ad. “We have a responsibility to feed our country. It is as essential as healthcare. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America. This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority.”

The company outlined its enhanced safety measures and said that closing processing plants would cause “millions of pounds of meat” to disappear from the supply chain.

Two days later, it was reported that President Donald Trump was planning on signing an executive order to keep meat processing facilities open by classifying their work as “critical infrastructure” under the Defense Production Act. 

Tyson Foods’ origins trace back to the Great Depression.

John W. Tyson in 1946.

Tyson Foods

In 1931, John W. Tyson moved his family to Springdale, Arkansas, and started a business delivering chickens around the Midwest. In the 1940s, demand for poultry grew, and Tyson moved into raising chicks and grinding feed for local chicken farmers, incorporating his business as Tyson Feed and Hatchery, Inc.

In 1952, John W. Tyson’s son, Don Tyson, joined the company as a general manager right out of college.

Don tyson

Tyson Foods

“I left the [University of Arkansas] in 1952, and from that day until 1963, the year I took the company public, I worked in the business six days a week and on Dad’s farm on the seventh day,” Don said, according to Tyson’s website.

In 1958, the company opened its first processing plant in Arkansas at a cost of $90,000 — well over the original $75,000 budget.

The company went public as Tyson Foods in 1963 and began a series of acquisitions. In 1966, Don became president of the company.

Tyson Foods

Tyson Foods

The next year, John W. Tyson and his wife, Helen, died in a automobile-train accident, after which Don took over his father’s role as chairman and CEO.

Tyson Foods continued to grow throughout the ’70s and ’80s, moving into new corporate offices and acquiring companies such as Mexican Original, a flour and corn tortilla company.

tyson foods

Tyson Foods

Between 1984 and 1989, the company doubled in size.

In the ’80s, CEO Don Tyson’s son, John H. Tyson — who is today the company’s chairman — had a high-profile struggle with alcohol addiction. 

But he stopped drinking in 1990, he told Forbes in 2004.

“Just got tired,” he said. “It was God’s grace that gave me a chance to be clean.”

In the late ’90s, Don Tyson retired, and his son, John H. Tyson, took over as chairman of the board, becoming the third generation of Tysons to lead the company. He was named CEO in 2000.

Don Tyson (left) and his son, John H. Tyson.

Tyson Foods

In the late ’90s, Tyson Foods faced some legal trouble. The company had to pay $6 million in fines in 1997 after pleading guilty to making $12,000 in illegal gifts, including plane trips and football tickets, to the secretary of agriculture.

According to Tyson Foods, Don remained on the board of directors and stayed active in the company for many years until his death in January 2011 at age 80.

Don Tyson in 1991.

Steve Jennings/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

His New York Times obituary described him as “a risk-taking, bare-knuckle businessman who bought out dozens of competitors, skirted the edge of the law and transformed a Depression-era trucking-and-feed venture into a global enterprise with an army of employees and millions of customers in 57 countries.”

As CEO from 2000 to 2009, John H. Tyson oversaw Tyson Foods’ $4.6 billion acquisition of meatpacking company IBP, Inc., as well as the construction of a company “innovation center.”

Tyson Foods CEO John H. Tyson speaks to employees in 2002.

Greg Smith/Corbis via Getty Image

He stepped down as CEO in 2009 but remained chairman of the board.

Today, Tyson Foods’ CEO is not a Tyson, but Noel White, who’s been with the company for 37 years.

But John H. Tyson is not the only Tyson family member still involved in the company.

John H. Tyson’s aunt, Barbara Tyson, sits on the company’s board of directors.

Barbara Tyson

Tyson Foods

Per Forbes, Barbara inherited a fortune that’s today worth an estimated $390 million after her husband, Randal, died in an accident in 1986 at age 34.

In September 2019, John H. Tyson’s 29-year-old son, John R. Tyson, was promoted to chief sustainability officer.

John R. Tyson, chief sustainability officer at Tyson Foods.

Tyson Foods

Tyson, who’s leading a sustainability push for Tyson Foods, told The Wall Street Journal in January that he’s been involved with the company in some capacity for his entire life.

While Tyson Foods has grown into one of the top three largest meat-producing corporations in the world, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, it doesn’t seem to be straying from its family-run roots anytime soon.

Read the original article on Business Insider



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