An undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the United States recently documented the suffering endured by female breeding pigs held in gestation crates on a factory farm operated by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the largest pork company in the world. Many of these pigs develop pressure sores and infections from crate-related injuries and from simply lying in the same position without any room to move. Out of sheer boredom, they engage in repetitive behaviors like bar biting and head swaying — sometimes injuring themselves in the process.
Gestation crates are exceptionally cruel and unsanitary and have been banned by the European Union, New Zealand, and eight U.S. states. In 2007, Smithfield committed to phase out the use of gestation crates by 2017; but in 2009, it said it could no longer meet its self-imposed and very lenient deadline because of economic conditions. Over the past few months Smithfield boasted record profits. While Smithfield said it would phase out 30 percent of its gestation crates by the end of 2011, it still hasn't re-comitted to its original promise. Now is the time for Smithfield to re-commit to its initial goal to phase out gestation crates completely by 2017.
McDonald's top two competitors, Burger King and Wendy’s, have publicly condemned gestation crates and, importantly, have also begun using gestation crate-free pork. There is still work to do, but these companies are on the right track. McDonald’s itself has condemned gestation crates...but it hasn't taken enough action to remedy the situation.
McDonald’s is Smithfield's largest customer. As one of the world’s most visible and recognizable brands, McDonald's has an enormous amount of influence on the pork industry.
A decade ago, McDonald’s claimed that phasing out gestation crates was “at the top of its agenda.” But after Smithfield halted its progress, McDonald's failed to move on the issue. Now is the time for McDonald's to tell Smithfield that it needs to honor its prior commit and completely phase out gestation crates. If Smithfield's largest customer requests gestation crate-free pork, the producer is likely to follow through on its promise.
Photo Credit: loop_oh