If I told you that pigs confined in gestation crates -- cages barely larger than the animals' bodies, in which they don't have enough space even to turn around for nearly their whole lives -- were living in "ideal" conditions where their "every need is met," you'd probably have a quarrel with that. The rhetoric and the reality just don't comport.
Yet that's exactly what Smithfield Foods -- the world's largest pork producer and McDonald's primary pork supplier -- asserts on its website. If you think that's false advertising, know that The Humane Society of the United States agrees, and it was in response to this and other related false claims that we filed a legal complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week. The story was picked up by the Associated Press, TIME, the Chicago Tribune, Virginian-Pilot, and more. The best headline, though, comes from James McWilliams in The Atlantic: "McFib? The Conditions at McDonald's McRib Pork Supplier."
McFib sums it up nicely, as an HSUS undercover investigation released less than a year ago reveals exactly how Smithfield's breeding pigs actually live.
McDonald's was in some ways ahead of its competitors on animal welfare issues in the late 1990s. In recent years, though, the company has lagged, especially when compared to its competitors like Burger King. On the issue of gestation crates, McDonald's states that moving sows "from gestation stalls to group housing" is "a decision that's best for the welfare and well-being of those sows." McDonald's own advisor, Dr. Temple Grandin, has unequivocally stated that gestation crates "have got to go." And in a 2001 Washington Post article, McDonald's referred to this issue as being "towards the top of our agenda."
Yet a decade later, McDonald's suppliers -- like Smithfield -- still confine the vast majority of their breeding pigs in gestation crates, and the company has no plan or timeline for ending its use of gestation-crate pork.
Ten years is a long time for an issue to be at the top of your agenda without taking meaningful action on it. The time is now long overdue for McDonald's to do the right thing and make gestation crates a part of its history.