Burger King: A Cage-Free Future?

The fast-food chain moves to buy only cage-free eggs and pork from producers who don't use gestation crates.

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Burger King released a whopper of an announcement this morning with news that by 2017, all of its eggs will come from cage-free hens, and its pork will be sourced only from suppliers that have phased out use of gestation crates.

In 2007, the fast-food giant was the first major restaurant company to commit to using cage-free products, and had already been sourcing 9 percent of its eggs and 20 percent of its pork under these guidelines. But the latest announcement is seen as a game-changer by many in the industry simply because of Burger King’s vast buying power and its massive breakfast program, which relies heavily on eggs and pork products like sausage and bacon. The announcement was being trumpeted by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), an activist group that has been pushing corporations to adopt more humane conditions for farm animals.

Burger King’s change in policy also dovetails with legislative action in several states.

“California and Michigan have outlawed cage confinement for hens entirely,” Matt Prescott, food policy director for HSUS tells TakePart. “And Ohio, which is the second largest egg producing state in the country [behind Iowa], passed a moratorium on construction of any new battery-cage-hen facilities–existing ones can stay.”

Eight states, including California, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Maine have laws on the books to prohibit or phase out gestation crates for pigs.

While Burger King’s announcement is a headline grabber, other corporations have been making similar promises of sourcing more cage-free eggs, including Kraft, Sara Lee, Subway, Wendy’s, Walmart, Costco, Unilever, and more.

The trend has some on the ag-side of the industry worried. When McDonald’s announced it would require pork suppliers to outline their plans to phase out gestation crates, an editorial in meat industry magazine MeatingPlace proclaimed “game over” when it came to the use of gestation crates for pigs.  

“The activist organization more recently has targeted Tyson, Hormel, and Seaboard in efforts to secure more such promises. But linking arms with McDonald’s effectively ends any prevarication. Game over. For any pork producer still on the fence, the McDonald’s announcement makes the move inevitable, whether or not they are a McD’s supplier,” they wrote.

While the nation’s egg producers have teamed up with HSUS to change the way hens are raised, the pork industry has resisted. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, sends a chilling message on his blog on the heels of today’s announcement. 

“With the big three fast-food companies shunning gestation crates, the message is unmistakable to the pig industry: stop circling the wagons to defend an unacceptable production system and chart a future course without these crates.”

Is Burger King doing enough? Are you more likely to eat there knowing they're starting to care about animal welfare?

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