Processing Magazine

Tyson settles lawsuit, agrees to donate chicken

June 1, 2009
The Associated Press reports that Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to donate up to 1.7 million pounds of chicken to Illinois food banks to settle a lawsuit that claimed the world''s biggest meat producer artificially inflated the retail weight of its poultry. Under the deal approved by a judge in Madison County, Ill., the company denies any wrongdoing and agreed to resolve the matter out of court to avoid additional costs related to the nearly eight-year legal tussle. The suit, originally brought in 2001 by a couple from Hartford and an Arkansas man, claimed that Tyson artificially inflated the weight of poultry products sold between 1997 and 2003 through a cold-water immersion chilling process that resulted in absorption and retention of water under the birds'' skin and muscle tissues. Federal regulations now require poultry processors to disclose retained water on product labels. As part of the settlement, a $2 million fund will be established to settle claims by an unspecified number of individual class members. But few are expected because Tyson keeps no records of retail customers and few consumers eligible for reimbursement would still have required proof that they bought the chicken so many years ago. So the company has agreed to donate unclaimed funds in the form of fresh poultry, expected to be about 1.7 million pounds, according to John Hoffman, a St. Louis attorney for the plaintiffs. The agreement also calls for Tyson to pay $750,000 in attorneys’ fees, to be split among six law firms involved in the litigation, Hoffman said. The chicken will be distributed by Feeding Illinois, formerly the Illinois Food Bank Association, a coalition of eight member food banks that provide food throughout the state. It was not immediately clear how soon the food banks would get any of the donated chicken.