McDonald’s Says ‘No More Gestation Crates’ — Good Job, Consumers!

McDonald's signMcDonald’s announced to pork suppliers Monday that it wants gestation crates phased out. Due to the fast-food giant’s massive purchasing power, its new gestation crate policy might just be the tipping point that ends this inhumane practice in the US pork industry. McDonald’s deserves kudos for using their powers for Good and not (at least for the moment) Evil; this is a big deal! But the even-bigger deal is the reason for the change.

With support from HSUS, McDonald’s released a statement Monday anouncing its intention to require a phase-out of gestation crates for pregnant sows, which (along with battery cages for laying hens) has been called one of the most cruel types of animal confinement in modern agriculture.

“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.”

McDonald’s isn’t the first restaurant chain to move away from this form of cruel confinement — Chipotle led the way, and other fast food companies have reduced purchasing from suppliers who use gestation crates. According to the Chicago Tribune,

Fast-food competitors have cut back on the amount of pork raised in gestational crates, but McDonald’s is the first major restaurant chain — aside from Chipotle — looking to phase it out entirely, experts say. Chipotle Mexican Grill required that its suppliers stop using crates about 12 years ago.

In fiscal 2011, 20 percent of Burger King‘s pork was produced without gestation stalls. And Wendy’s has given preferential treatment to pork not produced in gestation stalls in the U.S. and Canada since 2007.

“Activity by McDonald’s is awfully significant, and we expect it will have a catalytic effect within the fast-food sector and other segments of the retail industry,” Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said Monday.

He added that the crates, which have been the industry standard for decades, were unregulated a decade ago, but now eight states, including Florida, Maine and Arizona, have banned them.

The McDonald’s gestation crate announcement comes on the heels of an historic alliance between United Egg Producers and HSUS to support federal protections for laying hens, specifically the phasing out of battery cages. Most people — even most enthusiastically meat-eating dairy-eating egg-eating people — want farm animals to be treated decently. Thanks in part to recent mainstream media like Food, Inc., Fast Food Nation, and Eating Animals, more US consumers are realizing that factory farming has embraced some animal treatment standards that leave puppy mills and dog-fighting rings in the dust. Cruelty is cruelty, and most consumers don’t want it.

McDonald’s new pork policy is a response to market pressure. They didn’t just sit around and suddenly have a tender moment of compassion for pregnant pigs being treated horribly. This is a consumer-driven, demand-driven decision: steadily growing numbers of conscious consumers want more ethically produced food! McDonald’s gets credit for responding to this demand; but the hog’s share of the credit goes to consumers who’ve been agitating for the change.

The best way to avoid infliction of cruelty on farmed animals is to simply eat other things. The move away from gestation crates and battery cages doesn’t make me want to scarf down pig bits, or eggs. McDonald’s decision to require producers to phase out gestation crates won’t convince me, personally, to eat at McDonald’s.

But the fact that the biggest of the big fast-food fish has realized that consumers don’t want intensive animal confinement: that is huge! McDonald’s new pork mandate represents enormous progress, for the treatment of farmed animals and for consumers who value less vs. more animal cruelty in modern animal agriculture.

Guys, I hate to say it, but I think I feel some cautious optimism! With more and more people joining the ranks of the ecovores, factory farming and intensive animal confinement practices just don’t seem to be faring very well (and good riddance to ’em!). To everyone who is paying attention to what you eat, where it comes from, and what cruel practices were or weren’t inflicted on it when it was a living breathing creature before it appeared on your plate: you’re doing great! Keep it up!

Because — as the pork industry found out this week — it seems to be working.

Image credit: Creative Commons photo by Vacacion.

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9 thoughts on “McDonald’s Says ‘No More Gestation Crates’ — Good Job, Consumers!”

  1. Anyone concerned about the abuse of animals on factory farms should OPPOSE recently introduced federal legislation, HR 3798, that would keep laying hens IN battery cages forever, while eliminating the rights of voters! Learn more — and take action now! Please visit:

    1. I disagree. I think some protection is better than none, and anything that has the other industrial animal ag organizations clamoring against it (– against animal welfare improvements that have nothing to do with their own industries whatsoever! because, you know, consumers might (gasp!) start expecting better treatment of farmed animals across the board — well, I think that just about proves it’s a great idea! And — come on, now — you know and I know there’s no such thing in our bureaucratic society as an un-revisable policy. Something is better than nothing, and I’ll take it, please and thank you.

      That’s how it looks to me, anyway.

      Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Agreed that this is huge and good, but I also find it depressing that one of the nastiest things humans have ever thought to do systematically to another species has taken so long to emerge into American consciousness as problematic. And then the pace of change is appallingly slow. Why, if gestation crates are a problem, is the rest of the institutionalized, industrial-scale cruelty that is the factory farming system left in place? How is it possible to stop there?

  3. Russ Ellinger

    As a farm advocate from the Midwest, I wholly support the use of gestation crates. Pigs are extremely aggressive animals. I doubt anyone commenting has ever seen the horrible scratches and bite marks from fighting sows. Keeping pregnant pigs away from each other is a priority. Taking away farrowing stalls would put piglets in danger, because large sows could easily sit on and squish a newborn. And this isn’t a ”what if”, I have seen dead piglets who have suffered this fate. Farmers love, appreciate, and deeply care for animals. Farming is extremely hard and stressful, but we do it to care for the land and our animals. Keep informed, and dont automatically assume what the HSUS says is good for livestock, actually is.

    1. Tanya Sitton

      Hi Russ,

      Thanks for sharing your point of view. I’m curious about your thoughts on the overcrowding that leads to those problem behaviors? I’ll agree with you that gestation crates aren’t the primary problem; the primary problem, it seems to me, is extremely concentrated factory-style animal facilities that require extreme confinement to prevent those injuries you describe (and causing problems with pollution, prophylactic antibiotic use, and other issues as well). Do you agree that highly concentrated animal populations experience more behavior problems? Do you defend those conditions, as well as the gestation crates used in response to the resultant problems? I’d be interested in how that looks to you.

      I don’t think gestation crates are a problem because HSUS says so, and to frame it that way comes across as pretty condescending — is that how you meant it? Based on personal experience (farm-sitter for 40-50 rescue pigs for several months), I know pigs and dogs to be similar in intelligence, personality, and capacity for playfulness and joy. I don’t think it would be ethical to confine a dog so tightly, for any portion of its life; it’s only consistent to take the same position regarding pigs. No one needs to tell me to think that, it’s just consistent ethical reasoning.

      I think raising live animals comes with a different set of ethical obligations than, say, making tires. I think it matters how you treat living things; other than the profit motive, I don’t understand how you could ask an animal you deeply care for to live in those conditions. Just because a practice is financially beneficial doesn’t mean it’s morally right. I’m not trying to attack you, I’m sure you do the best you can in a hard job. But the bottom line, to me, is that there are some things that are just wrong to inflict on living things for the sake of cheap overabundant meat. Even if it’s best for your business: that doesn’t mean it’s right.

      Would you defend the same extreme confinement practices in puppy mills, or in plants in other parts of the world that produce dogs for human consumption? Why, or why not? It seems very similar to me, and so I wouldn’t support either practice.

      I don’t doubt that you work hard, at a stressful job; but it seems like you’re presenting a false dichotomy between ‘extremely overcrowded conditions WITH gestation crates’ and ‘extremely overcrowded conditions WITHOUT gestation crates.’ Do you really feel like those are the only options? If so, why?

      To me, it seems like industrialized nations have gotten use to buying artificially cheap animal products. That necessitates inhumane and miserable conditions, and puts farmers in the position of having to try to justify unjustifiable practices or else go out of business. I’m just not convinced that’s the best we can do, for pigs or consumers OR farmers.

      I think we can do better.

      Thanks for writing.

      1. Russ Ellinger

        No one likes to see animals caged up for their whole lives, and surely dont like to see our stock in dirty, unhealthy conditions. I assure you that responsible stock producers wish to keep our animals clean and content. Farrowing crates are the best way to raise pregnant pigs that make sense to the producer, consumer, and stock. Indoor hog farms arent very pretty, I agree, and might not be around forever. Barnyard and pasture pigs cant be birthed as safely outdoors. I mention HSUS only because it is the largest, most visible lobbying group. Farmers cant make money with sick, dirty, injured stock. It will be very interesting to see how this change in buying practices will affect the market and our own eating habits.

        1. Tanya Sitton

          With all respect, farmers make money from sick, dirty, injured stock all the time. And most of those injuries seem to be directly caused by the overcrowded conditions you seem to advocate, or by the manipulation required to maximize profits and avoid behavior problems caused by that same system.

          Chickens raised for meat grow so fast their bones break when they stand; they still get ground up for nuggets just fine. Beef is soaked in ammonia and/ or irradiated to kill the feces-borne bacteria from filthy animals that contaminates meat during processing: no problem there, still sellable meat.

          Respiratory problems from constantly breathing ammonia, open sores from bites or pecking, blistered feet from standing constantly on wire, and deliberate physical trauma like castration, dehorning, and tail-docking also cause no sales problems for meat producers: it all grinds up the same. Animals wouldn’t be dosed with routine antibiotics if producers really thought they were being kept in healthy conditions.

          They only have to live long enough to reach market weight; they don’t have to be happy or healthy or well.

          You injure your own case with such a weak argument. If the animals weren’t dirty, sick, injured, and otherwise generally miserable, there wouldn’t be such a frantic push for ag-gag legislation to keep anyone outside the industry from seeing how they live.

          But I definitely agree with you that there are interesting times on the horizon, regarding patterns of food marketing and consumption in the US. So at least there’s *some* common ground between us. :-)

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