October 6, 2007 —
Probably best known for SPAM (the king of processed food), Hormel is a giant in the meat and poultry industry and had net sales of $5.4 billion in 2006. A multi-national corporation, Hormel has been repeatedly criticized for its opposition to strict federal guidelines and regulations of its industry. More Americans have clamored for a change, especially after the 2003 publication of Fast Food Nation, which illustrated the often dangerous conditions in which cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals are raised and slaughtered.
Hormel has supported a change in federal law to allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the final say in food labeling on fruits, nuts, and other products— but not meat and poultry, which is controlled by the Department of Agriculture. This law overrode state laws that were often more rigid than the federal law, which consumer groups such as Consumers Union believe is about less regulation, not protecting consumer safety.
Hormel is a powerful member within the American Meat Institute (AMI), which has consistently opposed strict federal regulation of the meat industry. Even after outbreaks of mad cow disease, AMI has opposed restrictions on how beef is raised, fed, and slaughtered in order to protect consumers.
Hormel is a notorious union-buster. American Dream, the 1990 Academy Award-winning documentary film, tells the story of the yearlong strike precipitated in 1985 after the company unilaterally cut hourly wages from $10.69 to $8.25 at its Austin, Minn., plant. The walkout finally ended when the company reopened the plant with permanent replacement workers.
Unlike competitors like Tyson Chicken, Hormel has not moved into the organic market. In fact, the company promotes ‘natural’ over organic (which are produced under guidelines that allow no antibiotics, chemicals, or additives) because of the expense to Hormel to change over. The company has focused on “taste and convenience” as the top priorities, then followed by an “element of being good for you.” So far, natural and organic stores and markets have not accepted Hormel’s ‘natural’ products.