The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced this week that it had filed an SEC complaint against Smithfield Farms, the large pig producer that supplies pork for McDonald's divisive, limited-edition McRib sandwich. The complaint, which is posted in its entirety online, alleges that the pigs' living conditions are cruel and unusual, citing reports of pigs covered in blood andsows being confined to tiny gestational grates, which are illegal in some states.
This isn't the first time animal rights' groups -- or even the HSUS -- has targeted Smithfield for its record on animal welfare. In December 2010, the HSUS got ahold of gruesome footage of a Smithfield Farms facility, leading respected figures like Mark Bittman to call for a boycott of meat from the company.
Indeed, this most recent complaint seems more like the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute than like a breaking development specifically occasioned by the McRib. An unsympathetic analysis of the HSUS action would probably lead to the conclusion that the group is tying its complaint to the McRib in order to drum up public attention for the cause. The sandwich, after all, has long been a lightning rod for press coverage.
That's not to say that the McRib is some kind of pristine product of nature, of course. Before the HSUS complaint surfaced, several media outlets had conducted investigations into the myriad of bizarre ingredients that go into the boneless "rib" patty at the center of the sandwich.
The pork bits that make up the meat include "tripe, heart and scalded stomach," which is bad enough. But the chemical additives that go into the sandwich are even worse. Allegedly, when the additives aren't binding lung and liver bits together, they're used for keeping yoga mats springy and shoe soles white.