The Humane Society of the United States earned a big win last week when Burger King says it will stop using meat from hog operations that use gestation crates, and eggs from caged-hen operations. But not every battle ends in a win, because later in the week the organization lost out to a Domino's shareholder vote on the same issue - by a wide margin. In fact, 80% of shareholders said no to the HSUS move, staying in line with what the company's board recommended in proxy documents ahead of the meeting.
In that proxy statement, the company says it "does support humane treatment of animals. Domino's Pizza does not own, raise, transport nor process the animals used for our products. We believe this is an issue that should be addressed directly with producers and suppliers, not customers. Domino's Pizza is a customer. Therefore, the Company believes this makes the shareholder request to Domino's Pizza to be redundant and unnecessary, and would not result in any additional benefit to shareholders."
The final vote was 80% against the HSUS request, 4% in favor and 16% abstaining. Turns out, however, that 4% was enough of a "margin" to allow HSUS to return to the annual meeting in 2013 for another run at the same issue. Domino's must know that this group doesn't give up easily.
Domino's says it has contacted the three suppliers that provide pork products to discuss the topic, according to proxy documents. The largest noted that they purchase pork "only from farms that meet the National Pork Board's Quality Assurance Plus" program guidelines (another program under fire from HSUS).
The company says its second supplier provided documentation that it buys 20% of its products from farms using alternative forms of housing, while noting that 3% comes from farms not using gestation crates. The largest supplier - Tyson Foods - and Domino's discussions with them garnered the following comment: "The current scientific research indicates there are several types of production systems which are favorable for the pigs. The systems include open pens, gestation stalls and open pasture. According to published studies, the most important factor to the animal is the individual care given to each animal and the caretaker’s management and husbandry skills, regardless of the system used."
The pizza maker also has information from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, noting both have reviewed the current scientific literature on these issues noting that individual and group housing types both have advantages and disadvantages.
So HSUS will be back, but for now Domino's is going to rest on the science offered by its suppliers and move ahead.