McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, will require its pork suppliers to get rid of gestation pens that animal-rights groups have long deemed cruel to pigs.
“There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows,” Dan Gorsky, McDonald’s senior vice president of North America supply-chain management, said in a statement today, released with the Humane Society of the United States.
The company, which uses pork in sausage McMuffins, breakfast platters and McRib sandwiches, will require its suppliers to submit plans by May to phase out the metal cages.
McDonald’s is “one of the largest purchasers of pork -- bacon and sausage, in particular,” David Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said in an e-mail. The Oak Brook, Illinois-based fast-food chain buys about 1 percent of the U.S. pork supply, according to Lisa McComb, a McDonald’s spokeswoman.
The move comes 11 years after Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. began requiring its pork suppliers to raise pigs outside or in large cages and use antibiotic-free and vegetarian food. McDonald’s spun off Chipotle in 2006.
Gestation cages are typically about 2 feet by 7 feet, too small for a full-sized sow to turn around.
Pigs kept in these pens are more susceptible to disease and illnesses such as urinary tract infections, said Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the Washington-based Humane Society. They also suffer psychologically because pigs are “very social, intelligent animals,” he said.
Cargill Inc., the commodity trader that’s the largest closely held U.S. company, and Smithfield, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc. are leading the way in getting rid of the animal enclosures, McDonald’s said in the statement. Cargill is based in Minneapolis.
“It’s just wrong to immobilize animals for their whole lives in crates barely larger than their bodies,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, said in the statement.
McDonald’s, which has about 33,500 locations worldwide, rose 0.2 percent to $99.65 at the close in New York. The shares gained 31 percent last year.
“McDonald’s isn’t going to say this, but we’re throwing away a lot of good things about gestation stalls,” Steve Meyer, the president of livestock and grain marketing consulting firm Paragon Economics in Adel, Iowa, said in an interview. The separate pens keep hogs from fighting with each other, he said.