Ahmed Elbatrawy

McDonald’s phasing out tiny cages for pigs

pig-sow-gestation-stalls.top.jpg

McDonald’s said it will phase out pig farmers who use sow gestation stalls, which the Humane Society likens to “iron maidens.”

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — McDonald’s said it will get its pork suppliers to phase out the use of immobilizing cages for pregnant pigs, a move that was applauded by the Humane Society.

“McDonald’s believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future,” said the fast food chain in a press release. “There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows.”

Animal activists oppose the use of gestation stalls, which are cages that keep individual sows in close confines while they’re pregnant.

“Confining pigs in gestation crates is arguably the cruelest practice in factory farming,” said Josh Balk, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. “These are iron maidens that are barely larger than the pigs’ own bodies.”

Balk said that at the farms that use gestation stalls, sows spend most of their lives in the confining cages, where they have no room to move. He said that a better alternative is the use of large pen areas that “allow pigs to be more like pigs.”

Balk added that the European Union and eight U.S. states have already banned the use of gestation stalls.

Pork is a critical ingredient in many of McDonald’s (MCD, Fortune 500) menu items, including the McRib, the Angus Chipotle BBQ Bacon and the Angus Bacon Cheese sandwiches.

For a major pork buyer like McDonald’s to shun the use of gestation stalls is no small matter. According to the Humane Society, leading pork-producing states like Iowa, where pork is a $4 billion industry, as well as Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma and North Carolina, do not ban the use of gestation stalls.

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U.S. pork production is a $97 billion industry, directly supporting 35,000 full-time jobs in 2007, according to the most recent statistics from the National Pork Producers Council. In that year, nearly 21 billion pounds of pork were processed from about 105 million hogs.

A council spokesman did not immediately return a message from CNNMoney about the potential financial impact from the McDonald’s announcement.

In addition to supplying domestic consumers and companies like McDonald’s, U.S. pork is a major export industry, accounting for $3.1 billion worth of exports in 2007, according to the council. Japan is the biggest importer of U.S. pork, followed by Mexico, Russia and China. To top of page

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Ahmed Elbatrawy