Last week McDonald’s announced a plan to phase out purchasing pork from operations that use gestation crates. Back in February, however, the fast food giant had said it would work with the pork industry to transition to a different animal housing system. So, why the sudden change of heart? Simple — pressure from the animal rights bully HSUS. “We wish the company planned to get rid of these crates tomorrow, but we understand the logistical challenges involved in making such significant improvements,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States. After failing to blackmail the pork industry with ballot box initiatives, HSUS has set about to bully and intimidate food retailers on the issue of hog housing. McDonald’s is just the latest national chain to cave.
If there was some serious science behind this or a food safety concern or even a large amount of public outrage, I would cut McDonald’s some slack. But, there is not. In fact, there is considerable evidence that the open pen system being demanded by McDonald’s has serious side effects. Everett Forkner, a farmer from Richards, MO who is president of the National Pork Board, said that peer-reviewed research shows overwhelmingly that both individual stalls and open pens are appropriate ways to provide good care to pregnant sows. “I’ve been in this business a long time,” Forkner said. “I know, on my own farm, I moved from open pens to stalls many years ago because too many sows were being injured or denied feed. When sows are thrown together, they can become very aggressive. Dominant sows physically attack the others, bite them and steal their food. The housing used by most farmers was designed to protect sows from this bullying while they are most vulnerable, during their pregnancies.”
What makes the McDonald’s announcement even more of a sham is that one of their major pork suppliers, Smithfield Farms, had already announced plans to phase out crates completely by 2017. So, all the McDonalds announcement did was generate some sympathetic publicity from the media and put another feather in the cap of HSUS. The real losers here are the consumers who will be paying higher prices for pork to offset the cost of scrapping a perfectly good production system and replacing it with one dictated by radicals. Therein lies the true hypocrisy.
If McDonald’s, Burger King, Denny’s and others who have caved to HSUS demands truly had their customers in mind, they would be focused on issues like taste, safety, and nutrition rather than how a sow spent a few weeks of her life. Pompous corporate executives like to issue statements like “We take our role as a responsible corporate citizen seriously, which is why we have adopted a strong position on animal welfare.” But, the truth is, they are afraid of bad publicity and of what their competitors might do.
Sadly, the die is cast. McDonald’s alone buys 1% of all the pork produced in the US. For pork producers, it is better to switch than fight. Industry efforts must now focus on working with processors to develop a better and stronger relationship with retailers and restaurants. A way must be found to keep HSUS and other radicals from dictating how the food industry is run. If HSUS is allowed to set the agenda, soon your Big Mac will be made of tofu.