Phase-out to be completed 30 years after McDonald’s accepted statement of humane principles
OAK BROOK, Illinois––The McDonald’s restaurant chain, buyer of more than two billion eggs per year, 4% of total U.S. egg production, on September 9, 2015 announced that it will phase out use of eggs from caged hens over the next 10 years, a time frame deemed sufficient to enable McDonald’s egg supplies to shift to cage-free systems.
About eight million egg-laying hens per year are involved in supplying McDonald’s.
“There has been pressure on McDonald’s to change its food sourcing to healthier cruelty-free suppliers for years, and for years the company has resisted,” said Farm Animal Compassionate Engagement in a prepared statement. “McDonald’s now follows in the footsteps of rival Burger King and several large food service suppliers, the Compass Group, Sodexo, and Aramark, who have already announced their commitments to sourcing cage-free eggs.”
“Future of eggs is cage-free”
Said Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “Like McDonald’s decision nearly four years ago to phase out pork from operations that confine breeding sows in gestation crates, “ with a 2017 target date for completing that transition, “this announcement makes plain that the future of egg production is cage-free. In practical terms, it now looks as if simply swapping battery cages for larger, colony-style cages would be a very dangerous investment for anyone in the egg industry.”
Ironically, HSUS and Pacelle themselves advocated exchanging battery cages for colony cages from June 2011 until February 2014, as part of a deal with United Egg Producers whereby HSUS agreed to suspend pursuing state legislation to mandate cage-free egg production, to obtain UEP support for a federal standard which would have phased in colony caging over 18 years.
Continued Pacelle, “Following McDonald’s gestation crate announcement, more than 60 major food companies announced similar policies. We expect the cascade of laying hen welfare announcements––already in motion with pledges from Compass Group, Sodexo, Aramark, Burger King, Starbucks, Unilever, and others––to similarly accelerate, thereby hastening an end to the era of extreme confinement of farm animals.”
Mercy for Animals exposé
The McDonald’s announcement about transitioning to use of eggs from cage-free hens came just over two weeks after McDonald’s and chicken supplier Tyson Foods announced that they would quit buying meat from a Tennessee farmer whose employees were shown allegedly abusing chickens in an undercover video released by Mercy for Animals.
“We’re working with Tyson Foods to further investigate this situation and reinforce our expectations around animal health and welfare at the farm level,” said McDonald’s in a prepared statement. McDonald’s acknowledged that the farm supplied chicken meat using in Chicken McNuggets and other menu items including grilled and deep-fried chicken filets.
1994 statement of humane principles
The 2012 announcement of intent to phase out using pork from pigs raised in gestation crates and the announcement of intent to phase out using eggs from caged hens by the end of 2022 are among the first tangible results from a pledge McDonald’s issued on February 16, 1994 to issue a statement of humane principles to all of the meat and poultry slaughterhouses that supplied the then-14,000 U.S. McDonald’s restaurants, with a request that it be forwarded to all the farmers who supply them.
An abbreviated edition of the statement appeared in the 1994 McDonald s annual report to shareholders.
McDonald’s now has more than 35,000 restaurants worldwide.
McDonald’s general counsel and senior vice president Shelby Yastrow agreed to ratify and distribute the statement in exchange for the withdrawal of a stronger and more specific statement advanced as a shareholder resolution by Henry Spira of Animal Rights International, who died in 1998, and Nanette Coco of the Franklin Research and Development Corporation, represented by senior analyst Simon Billenness.
What Mickey Dee said
Titled McDonald’s and the Humane Treatment of Animals, the statement affirmed that, “McDonald’s believes the humane treatment of animals, from the time of their birth and throughout their lives, is a moral responsibility. The Company fully respects the independence of its suppliers and requires them to adhere to pertinent laws, regulations, and industry guidelines concerning the humane treatment of animals such as those recommended by the American Meat Institute.
“Additionally,” the McDonald’s statement continued, “where those guidelines do not show sufficient concern for the humane treatment of animals, McDonald’s suppliers should take all reasonable steps to assure that animals raised, transported, and slaughtered for McDonald’s products are treated humanely. Additionally, we require that each supplier submit to us an annual written statement, signed by its Chief Executive Officer, confirming that it is in compliance with this statement (or explaining where and why it is not in compliance, and when compliance can be expected).”
Fighting on many fronts
Spira’s proposed shareholders resolution would have mandated that animals should be housed, fed, and transported in a practical manner least restrictive of their physical and behavioral needs, that animals should be afforded individual veterinary care when needed, and that methods used should be designed to produce a quick and humane death.
The resolution had little chance of passage, but McDonald’s was not eager to seem to oppose humane treatment while fighting a series of boycotts from animal protection, environmental, and labor groups that forced the firm to cease buying beef that might have been raised on former Latin American rainforest, and to replace styrofoam packaging with recyclable and/or biodegradable products.
“We have been successful in getting laboratory users of animals to accept the Three R principles of reduction, refinement, and replacement,” Spira said, “and we think a similar approach can succeed in the food industry. The first step is to get companies with enormous purchasing power to take the lead in establishing basic standards.”
Friedrich picked up ball & ran
Spira did not live to see McDonald’s actually implementing any of the humane principles that the company had accepted in theory, but in 1999, a year after his death, then-PETA director of vegetarian outreach Bruce Friedrich took up the campaign more-or-less where Spira left off. An 11-month series of PETA-led protests against McDonald’s ensued.
“Temple Grandin, a humane slaughter systems specialist and a member of the McDonald’s animal welfare panel, said she saw more improvement during the final six months of the campaign than she had in the previous 20 years,” Friedrich said in 2002, “which is significant, because she had been working for McDonald’s on the issue for more than five years.
#1 buyer of eggs
“McDonald’s is the #1 buyer of eggs in the U.S.,” Friedrich continued, suggesting this would be where McDonald’s could most make a difference by implementing actual standards instead of just recommending guidelines.
As a first step toward going cage-free, Friedrich said, “They moved from an industry average of seven or eight hens per cage to a maximum of five, and the death rates fell from almost 20% down to two or three percent per year. For those who are alive, that’s a significant improvement.”
Also in 2002, Friedrich recounted, “after the Animal Alliance of Canada and a coalition of 40 animal groups contacted McDonald’s about making animal welfare improvements in Canada, PETA submitted a shareholder resolution calling on McDonald’s to internationalize its standards.”
The resolution won the approval of only 5% of the shareholders, but that was enough to allow PETA to reintroduce it in 2003.
Moving to Farm Sanctuary as senior policy director, Friedrich continued to pressure McDonald’s to live up to the 1994 agreement with Spira, but nine more years elapsed before there was significant progress on the gestation crate issue, and 12 more years before McDonald’s finally agreed to phase in a cage-free requirement for egg producers in the U.S.
The cage-free requirement will be fully implemented in the U.S. fourteen years after McDonald’s implemented a similar standard within the European Union, under pressure of EU legislation.