Fast food giant tells farmers: be nicer to your pigs

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McDonald’s first introduced the McRib – a boneless pork chop on a bun with barbecue sauce – 30 years ago but hopes to produce a kinder version of the sandwich after telling its US pork suppliers to house their pigs in a more humane manner. Source: AFP

MCDONALD’S is pushing its pork suppliers to stop confining sows in small pens known as gestation stalls, moving to address concerns raised by animal-welfare advocates – and catch up with some competitors.

The burger giant said the pens are «not a sustainable production system» and there are alternatives that «are better for the welfare of sows». The move was announced in conjunction with the Humane Society of the US, which praised the decision. 

Gestation stalls confine adult female hogs whose offspring are raised and slaughtered for bacon and sausage.

The pens are typically about two feet wide, preventing sows from turning around, leaving only enough room to stand up and sit down.

The announcement is the latest in a series of measures McDonald’s and other restaurant chains have taken to improve their public image at a time when they are under pressure not only from interest groups but from some consumers to be more environmentally friendly and healthful.

Chipotle Mexican Grill and some other fast-food chains are touting their animal-friendly supply chains. Chipotle ran a lengthy ad during the Grammy music awards on Sunday criticising industrial hog-raising practices, including the use of small pens and chemical supplements like antibiotics.

McDonald’s said it has been considering demanding the removal of gestation crates for years.

The National Pork Producers Council, a farmers trade group, said it continues to support the use of gestation stalls, but was also willing to assist in the transition for McDonald’s suppliers.

The largest US hog producer, Smithfield Foods, said it has completed a third of its 10-year plan to move all its sows «into group housing systems». Cargill is also carrying out plans to replace the cages.

There are about 5.8 million breeding sows in the US out of a total swine population of 65.9 million, according to Agriculture Department data. McDonald’s says it purchases about 1 per cent of total pork produced in the US.

The fast-food chain said it is beginning an assessment with its suppliers of how to reach its goal, and would disclose its next steps in May.

Under pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, McDonald’s in 2000 got its egg suppliers to stop «forced moulting,» in which hens near the end of their productive life are deprived of food to jolt them into laying more eggs.

Also that year, McDonald’s required its egg suppliers to increase the size of the cages for laying hens.

Other chains have worked closely with animal-rights groups to alter their practices. Burger King has pointed to an award it received a few years ago from PETA recognising improvements it’s made in animal welfare.

McDonald’s is able to foster change in the way the pork industry operates because of the sheer size of the company and its large purchases, said US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Mr Vilsack said he suspects that the company «sees this as a market opportunity.»

To address other regular criticism about its food’s nutritional value, McDonald’s has made numerous menu changes over the years, adding salads, oatmeal and smoothies. In May, more than 550 health professionals and organisations called on McDonald’s to stop marketing «junk food» to children and to retire Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s refused to do away with its clown mascot, but two months later it said it would fill its Happy Meal boxes with apple slices and smaller portions of French fries.

Although McDonald’s said at the time that the two issues were unrelated, restaurant chains have been under increased regulation when it comes to the food they serve kids. Some cities, such as San Francisco, have banned the inclusion of toys in kids’ meals unless the meals meet certain nutritional criteria. McDonald’s recently got around that by allowing Bay-area parents to purchase the toys for a dime.

Source / Fuente: www.theaustralian.com.au

Author / Autor:  Bill Tomson & Julie Jargon, The WSJ

Date / Fecha: 14/02/12

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