McDonald’s Tells Suppliers: Pigs Deserve Better

The fast-food giant asks pork producers to ditch constricting sow gestation stalls.

happy pigs, McDonald's, two piglets
Thanks to pressure from the Humane Society, life is about to get a whole lot better for pigs in the McDonald’s supply chain. (Photo: Bob Elsdale/Getty Images)
Nichol Nelson is the Editorial Director at TakePart. She has worked in national digital and print publications in both New York and Los Angeles.

The McRib sandwich may soon have one less black mark against it. Today, McDonald’s Corporation announced it plans require its U.S. pork suppliers to outline their plans to phase out the use of sow gestation stalls.

The decision, supported by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is big news, since McDonald’s is a major consumer of pork. In addition to their notorious McRib sandwich (offered intermittently these days), many of the chain’s breakfast items contain ham and pork sausage.

Sow gestation stalls are commonplace on factory farms. The pens, typically 2 by 6.5 feet, keep pregnant pigs so tightly contained that they can’t turn around. As of February 2011, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, California and Ohio have banned gestation stalls, and they’re also being phased out in New Zealand and Europe.

“McDonald's believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future,” said Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of McDonald’s North America Supply Chain Management, in a statement. “There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows.”

“McDonald’s wants to see the end of sow confinement in gestation stalls in our supply chain,” he continued. “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 riding the fast-food chain hard on this issue, filing a legal complaint against pork producer Smithfield Foods late last year, alleging cruel and unusual treatment of the animals used in the McRib patty production.

“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.”

Not surprisingly, the decision is backed by animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin: “It takes a thorough plan to address the training of animal handlers, proper feeding systems, and the significant financial investment and logistics involved with such a big change. I’m optimistic about this announcement,” she said.

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