McDonald's Move to Ban Pig Gestational Crates Good Step, Not Enough

(photo: HSUS)

McDonald's Move to Ban Pig Gestational Crates Good Step, Not Enough

Yesterday fast food giant McDonald's announced that it would be phasing out the use of gestational crates for pigs. But animal advocates note that the company has far to go towards animal welfare.

A joint statement from the Humane Society of the United States and McDonald'sstated yesterday:

"McDonald's believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future. There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows,"said Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of McDonald's North America Supply Chain Management. "McDonald's wants to see the end of sow confinement in gestation stalls in our supply chain. We are beginning an assessment with our U.S. suppliers to determine how to build on the work already underway to reach that goal. In May, after receiving our suppliers' plans, we'll share results from the assessment and our next steps."

"The HSUS has been a long-time advocate for ending the use of gestation crates, and McDonald's announcement is important and promising," said Wayne Pacelle, The HSUS' president and CEO. "All animals deserve humane treatment, including farm animals, and it's just wrong to immobilize animals for their whole lives in crates barely larger than their bodies."

PETA offers this description of gestation crates:

Mother pigs (sows)--who account for almost 6 million of the pigs in the U.S.--spend most of their lives in individual "gestation" crates. These crates are about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide--too small to allow the animals even to turn around. After giving birth to piglets, sows are moved to "farrowing" crates, which are wide enough for them to lie down and nurse their babies but not big enough for them to turn around or build nests for their young.

Food writer Mark Bittmannotes that the move by McDonald's is good for the impact it will have on the welfare of other pigs in the meat-selling industry, yet the company has a long way to go:

[the move the phase out gestation crates] should not let McDonald's off the hook for more than a moment. Langert [McDonald's vice president of sustainability] calls the company "a sustainability leader" and it's in everyone's interest to hold him to that phrase. When, in December, I visited some company executives -- including Langert -- at the McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., I questioned them not only about gestation crates but on the other issues I believe to be important: the treatment of egg-laying hens and chickens; the quality and variety of their food offerings in general; their relationship to the labor force. Most of their answers were less than straightforward, along the lines of "we're studying that," or "we give our customers what they want."

Grist's Jess Zimmerman writes that the animals in the industrial food system will still receive less than ideal care:

Basically, everyone is realizing that it's bad practice to horrifically abuse animals when you can just treat them sub-optimally and still make a profit.

Farm Sanctuary president Bruce Friedrich welcomes the move from McDonald's while underscoring the need for the company to radically improve the welfare of chickens in its egg producers:

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.

The timeline for the change away from gestational crates is unknown, the Chicago Tribunereports:

Langert declined to provide a timeline for implementing changes or estimate associated costs. He underscored that the company allow a slow enough phase in so that farmers' businesses will remain economically viable.

Lindsay Rajt, a spokeswoman with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, urged consumers to "wait and see," noting that McDonald's doesn't make changes quickly. However, she encouraged people to "join us in asking McDonald's to move rapidly to dismantle this cruel gestational crate system that causes so much misery for millions of pigs."

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