It aired during the Grammy Awards. The next day, McDonald’s announced that it would require its pork producers to end the use of gestation crates for sows — you know, those lovely “stalls” that allow a pregnant sow to only stand up, lie down, or eat for the full 115 days of her pregnancy. A week later, the Bon Apetit Management Company (BAMCO) committed to entirely phasing out the use of both gestation crates for sows and battery cages for hens by 2015.
BAMCO, while not as large as McDonald’s (whose main supplier is Smithfield), still serves more than 3 million pounds of pork each year. This is good news, folks!
Grist has argued that the McDonald’s commitment may just be a case of “porkwashing” since the corporation didn’t actually commit to any kind of timeline for reaching it’s new goals. But ever since its CEO served on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm and Animal Production (which put together this report after witnessing the inside practices of industrial farming first hand), BAMCO has a track record of attempting to get rid of the most awful practices of industrial farming.
Regardless of whether or not you think McDonald’s will follow through on its word, you’ve got to admit that it’s pretty amazing that two of the largest purchasers of industrial pork in this country have now called for an end to one of the most heinous and unjustifiable practices common to the industrial hog farm.
According to Marion Nestle (author of the eye-opening book Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health), sow crates have no real justification:
During the course of the investigations that led to this [Pew Commission] report, we visited an industrial hog farm in Kansas where I got a first-hand look at sow gestation crates in (in)action.
I knew about sow crates, of course, but even so was completely unprepared for the sight of a pregnant sow confined between bars that allowed her only to stand up, lie down, and eat—during the entire 115 days of her pregnancy.
When we asked why this was necessary, we got this answer: it is easier for the managers.
- Workers do not have to be trained in animal husbandry.
- Cleaning chores are easier.
- Feed can be measured.
- The sows cannot fight.
- The sows cannot kill their babies.
Seeing my evident distress, Bill Niman, who was also on the Commission, offered an antidote. The next day, we drove 100 miles or so and visited Paul Willis’s hog farm.
Willis claims that his relatively free-range sows (confined in fields by electric fences) are nearly as productive. His animals get to roll in the mud. They do not fight and do not kill their piglets.
Yes, their meat ends up on the plate no matter how the animals are raised. But means matter as much as ends.
Kindness to animals is a mark of humanity.
Getting rid of sow crates is a good idea, and the sooner the better.
Isn’t it interesting that a short, 2 minute film that aired during the Grammy Awards was more immediately influential than an in-depth, 122 page investigative report commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts?
I think it speaks to our culture, and how we need to disseminate our Real Food message on a popular level. Films such as Food, Inc., Fresh, and Farmageddon certainly help, but apparently so do commercials! In fact, commercials may be even more effective.
Watch the Chipotle ad:
What are your thoughts? Do you think McDonald’s is porkwashing? Are you, like me, excited about the possibility of running highly visible ads tackling major issues like the labeling of GMOs, the over-use of antibiotics in industrial farming, and more?
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