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McDonald’s seeks ban on gestation crates

By Staff | Feb 17, 2012

DES MOINES – McDonald’s Corp. said Monday it will require its U.S. pork suppliers to provide plans by May to phase out farrowing crates that confine pregnant sows, a move that one animal rights group predicted would have “a seismic impact” on the industry.

The U.S. pork industry generates sales of about $21 billion a year, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

McDonald’s, with its Sausage McMuffin, McRib sandwich and breakfast platters, is one of the nation’s largest buyer of pork products, consuming about 1 percent of the nation’s total production.

The fast food chain announced its decision in a joint statement with the Humane Society of the United States, which hailed it as a major victory in its fight against so-called gestation crates. The animal welfare group has been pushing legislation in several states to outlaw the crates that severely limit animals’ movement.

“I think it’s going to have a seismic impact on the pork industry because it signals to every other major food retailer that this is the morally correct pathway, but it’s also an economically feasible pathway,” said Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society’s CEO.

Some of McDonald’s suppliers and other major pork producers have already announced plans to phase out gestation crates.

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s largest pork producer, and Hormel Foods Corp. have both said they would stop using them at company-owned farms by 2017. Cargill Inc. says it has already widely adopted group housing for pregnant sows.

Pork producers keep pregnant sows in gestation crates in an effort to reduce aggressive behavior by separating them from other hogs and feeding them individually.

The National Pork Producers Council, which has been concerned about the possibility of federal legislation limiting farming practices, said studies have shown individual and group housing can provide good care for sows. It said it will help McDonald’s assess housing practices, and the most important part of Monday’s announcement was that the change was driven by the market and not by government mandates.

“Pork industry customers have expressed a desire to see changes in how pigs are raised,” the group said in a statement. “Farmers are responding and modifying their practices accordingly. That process is effective, it is efficient and doesn’t require an act of Congress.”

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