McDonald’s and Farm Animal Cruelty: Reason for Cautious Optimism

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Common Dreams

McDonald’s and Farm Animal Cruelty: Reason for Cautious Optimism

McDonald’s may have the largest shopping cart in the country, so when McDonald’s talks, the meat, dairy, and egg industries listen.

That’s what happened in 2000 when McDonald’s ordered its suppliers to stop starving hens to shock their bodies into another laying cycle and to give the animals almost 50 percent more space per bird. Within a few years, more than 80 percent of the egg industry had followed suit.

So it’s definitely big news that the corporation has announced that it “will require its U.S. pork suppliers to outline their plans to phase out the use of sow gestation stalls,” with a promise to “share results from the assessment and our next steps” in May.

On the one hand, it’s about time—the company said in 2001 that gestation crates were “toward the top of our agenda” and promised a policy by year’s end. On the other hand, it’s a laudable move, and assuming the May announcement is for a speedy phase-out of crate use by its suppliers, that should spell the end of crates in the United States.

At Farm Sanctuary, we share our lives with farm animals, and we know them as individuals. We would no more eat a chicken or a pig than we would eat a kitten or a puppy; there is no moral or logical difference. Pigs are brighter than dogs and go completely insane in gestation crates. Also, their muscles and bones waste away, and they develop sores from living in their own excrement. Basically, these things are torture devices.

So we applaud McDonald’s announcement as positive change that will improve living conditions for millions of animals annually, even as we call on the company to follow McDonald’s in the EU by making a similar move on behalf of laying hens, hundreds of millions of whom are confined in conditions that are at least as cruel as that of pigs in crates.

Just a few months ago, Mercy for Animals documented conditions at a top McDonald’s egg supplier in the Midwest. They found the typical abuse that caused McDonald’s in Europe to lead the charge against these horrible contraptions: Five hens in tiny cages where not one hen could spread a single wing; workers burning the beaks off of young chicks—a process that causes chronic pain that lasts for a month; dead and decomposing animals in cages with live animals; and more.

As MFA pointed out, these conditions were not anomalous: This is simply what it means to raise hens in battery cages—the system used by nearly 100 percent of McDonald’s egg suppliers in the U.S. (but none at all in Europe). Even the United Egg Producers, which represents the producers of more than 80 percent of our nation’s eggs, supports legislation that will ban these torture devices. Surely McDonald’s can do better for hens that the industry’s trade group.

Conclusion:

Make no mistake—McDonald’s decision on gestation crates is probably the best animal welfare advancement for pigs in the U.S. to date; it will prove meaningful for millions of animals every year when the industry follows.

But McDonald’s claims that animal welfare is a key corporate concern; so for the same reason it’s getting rid of gestation crates for pigs, it should announce something similar for the millions of hens its suppliers are currently abusing in barren battery cages.

Bruce Friedrich

Bruce Friedrich is Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives for Farm Sanctuary.

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