I should tell you, I was warned not to write this column.
The last time I suggested there was something fishy about the U.S. poultry business, I heard from a top executive at Tyson Foods. I didn’t know what I was talking about, I was told. Contrary to what I had suggested, Clinton’s old Arkansas pals and benefactors haven’t been given the time of day from their man since he became president, a Tyson official said. In fact, I was told, the company had actually been squeezed hard by federal regulators and the independent counsel investigating its role in Department of Agriculture corruption. There was simply no truth to the notion that Tyson Foods has benefited in any way from Bill Clinton’s ascension to power. In fact, he said, “It’s the worst thing that ever happened to us.”
I put all that on the record just in case anything should happen to me. If I should suddenly come down with the mysterious “bird flu” virus or contract a fatal case of salmonella poisoning or choke on a chicken McNugget, maybe someone will ask some tough questions, demand an autopsy and prevent my remains from being cremated.
Not that I’m making any accusations, mind you. I am not weaving another conspiracy tale here. All I’m doing is connecting some dots — pointing out a few coincidences. Maybe that’s all they are — coincidences. It just seems like there have been too many in the last five years.
OK, here it is. Without further ado, let me review some facts.
A few months ago, you may remember, Hudson Foods was hit with an e coli bacteria scandal. The federal government regulators pounced on the company — even sending in a so-called “SWAT team” to shut down operations. Within hours, the company’s value plummeted. Within weeks, Hudson Foods had been purchased by its major rival, Tyson Foods, owned by Don Tyson, friend of the president and a long-time financial supporter of his political campaigns.
Tyson Foods had tried to buy Hudson Foods several times in previous years, but the offers were spurned. Only after the smaller company was brought to its knees, at least in part, through a public health scare and some government brute force was Tyson able to make a deal Hudson couldn’t refuse. Coincidence? Maybe. Or was it a quid pro quo? Just asking.
Let’s also recall that several years earlier, Tyson’s general counsel, James Blair, set up a sweetheart deal for Hillary Clinton to get into the cattle futures business. She parlayed a $1,000 investment into nearly $100,000 in a year. Good luck? Probably. I’m sure the Clintons didn’t feel indebted to Tyson for the favor any more than they did for all the campaign cash he threw at them over the years.
Now for some recent developments: Tyson Foods just copped a plea and agreed to cooperate with Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz’s investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. The company will pay a $6 million fine (“chicken feed,” one might say, to the multi-billion-dollar enterprise) for attempting to bribe a Cabinet member.
Coincidentally, the very same day, Hong Kong officials were busy slaughtering every single chicken in the region. Some people in Hong Kong are wondering why such a drastic government action was ordered when only a dozen or so human victims of the deadly “bird flu” virus carried by chickens have been diagnosed. Maybe it’s silly, but whenever I see government reacting so quickly and with such overwhelming force, I wonder why. Who’s benefiting?
Would you believe a major beneficiary of this disaster — this public health scare — could well be, once again, Tyson Foods?
Now I’m sure what I’m about to tell you is just another coincidence — just the luck of the draw. But let’s lay our eggs on the table. Are you sitting down “X-Files” fans? Tyson Foods has struck a major deal with China to explore the feasibility of developing as many as 10 poultry complexes throughout the country.
That’s right. I’m not kidding. On April 30, Tyson Foods, the world’s largest fully integrated producer, processor and marketer of chicken, announced it had entered into an agreement with Kerry Holdings Limited, the Hong Kong-based unit of the multinational conglomerate, the Kuok Group, to expand its operations bigtime in the People’s Republic of China.
What fortuitous timing! Now that every private chicken developer in the area has been wiped out by a Chinese government blitzkrieg, Tyson is poised to take over the South China poultry market. Its major push is expected to come in early 1998. Now, remember, Tyson’s deal is with the very same Chinese government that apparently pumped massive amounts of illegal cash into Clinton’s 1996 presidential campaign. What’s that saying about “birds of a feather”?
I know, I know. I’m just the suspicious type. Perhaps, I am too cynical. But coincidences like this make me nervous.