The issue of keeping pregnant pigs in tiny gestation crates has become more public in recent years, with consumers and animal-rights groups advocating for laws banning the use of these crates. McDonald’s buys its pork from pork producer Smithfield Foods, who is known for keeping its pigs in tight gestation crates that don’t allow the 600-pound pigs ample space to move around.
Undercover investigations conducted in 2010 by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) revealed the inadequate conditions under which pigs at the company’s farms live. In 2007, Smithfield voluntarily said that it would phase out the use of gestation crates and end the practice by 2017, but in 2009, the company retracted this goal, citing the floundering economy among the reasons it had made this decision. Smithfield, the world’s largest provider of pork and pork products, now states that it will place just 30 percent of its sows in group housing and out of gestation crates by the end of this year. While this goal is not insignificant, animal rights groups would like Smithfield to recommit to its original goal.
Gestation crates keep pregnant female pigs confined to metal stalls two feet by seven feet in dimension, housing several sows in tight quarters that can breed bacteria and do not let the pigs turn around or move. Since sows are often pregnant – a practice used by the meat industry to raise more pigs for food – they spend most of their lives in these crates and can develop infections and sores. It is estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of sows in the United States are kept in these crates during their four-month pregnancies. Pigs who live in these crates often display repetitive behaviors out of boredom, such as biting the metal bars of the cage and shaking their heads.
As McDonald’s is Smithfield’s largest client, the pork company will be affected if McDonald’s decides to stop buying pork from them. Other fast-food chains like Burger King, Subway, Sonic and Wendy’s have switched to buying pork from animal-friendly providers, and as one of the world’s largest fast food chains, McDonald’s should do the same. Consumer demands have evolved and risen to request that animals raised for meat be treated humanely, and more consumers are consciously purchasing meat that has not been abused. McDonald’s once claimed that saying no to pork raised in gestation crates was an important issue to them, but has not taken action to support that statement.
The United Kingdom and Sweden have already prohibited the use of gestation crates, and the cages will disappear from the European Union by 2013 and from New Zealand by 2015. Cargill, a major pork producer in the U.S., has also taken steps to move over half of its pigs out of gestation crates. The HSUS has campaigned enthusiastically to ban gestation crates for American farms, raising awareness of the issue and producing videos that highlight the cruelty these animals face daily. Seven states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan and Oregon – have enacted laws banning the crates, and now it is time for large meat companies to follow suit.
Since there are no federal laws governing the treatment of pigs and the use of gestation crates, consumers have to make their demands known in order to enforce change in the meat industry. Petitions on Change.org and ForceChange.com have gathered supporters to tell Smithfield CEO C. Larry Pope to recommit to his company’s original plan to stop abusing its pigs, and to tell McDonald’s to stop buying pork from Smithfield. As large, profitable corporations, both Smithfield and McDonald’s have the opportunity to become leaders in their field by prioritizing the humane treatment of pigs. Add your name to the list and help pigs receive the protection they need.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mualphachi/3589286823