It is no secret that large-scale (and some smaller scale) livestock production values efficiency over animal welfare. Chickens are regularly debeaked, dairy cows are confined in close quarters, and pregnant sows are confined in “gestational crates,” which basically make it impossible for the sow to turn around. Animal welfare advocates, such as the Humane Society, have long called for changes to these production practices. The typical response is “no,” and reading between the lines, the reason given is inevitably related to higher production costs.
McDonald’s uses pig products in breakfast sandwiches (sausage), salads/burgers (bacon). Yesterday, the corporation stated that it intended to work with its suppliers in developing plans to reduce its reliance on gestational crates for sows.
Personally, I would have liked to see stronger language, because McDonald’s did not make a commitment to eliminating confinement of pregnant sows. However, this is an important first step. Big companies have the power to make a significant difference in how suppliers produce food, particularly those who raise food under contract. And once a big corporation like McDonald’s takes a meaningful stand in eliminating practices that violate an animal’s welfare, others are likely to follow suit. My hope is that these types of practices will be entirely eliminated from livestock production. After all, it is bad enough that McDonald’s food is unhealthy (in the extreme, think of Supersize Me), and reduces our health and increases our waistlines. But why should animals have to endure this type of treatment, just so we can have a cheap meal?