McDonald's Sets Deadline on Gestation Crates

Fast food chain commits to 10-year plan to end pork sourcing from farm operations that use the stalls.

Published on: Jun 1, 2012

Earlier this year McDonald's made a statement regarding a move to end sourcing pork from suppliers that use gestation stalls. This week it firmed up that commitment with a 10-year plan to work with its pork suppliers to phase out the use of the stalls. According to a McDonald's statement, the goal of the twn-year plan, developed with input from suppliers, pork producers and animal welfare experts, is to source all pork for its U.S. business from producers that do not house pregnant sows in gestation stalls by the end of 2022.

As an interim step, the company says it will seek to source pork for its U.S. business only from producers who "share its commitment to phase out gestation stalls." The company says it will work with producers and suppliers to develop needed traceability systems that will verify pork sourced from non-gestation stall supply chains and assess how to best support producers migrating away from gestation stalls.

JUST SAYING NO: McDonalds commits to a ten-year plan to end the use of gestation stalls by its pork suppliers. The National Pork Board expressed disappointment with the move.(Photo: McDonalds)
JUST SAYING NO: McDonald's commits to a ten-year plan to end the use of gestation stalls by its pork suppliers. The National Pork Board expressed disappointment with the move.(Photo: McDonald's)

In its release, McDonald's quotes Temple Grandin, Colorado State University animal welfare scientist and member of the company's Animal Welfare Council: "This change is complex and will require additional resources. The ten-year timeline that McDonald's has outlined is necessary to research and identify better housing alternatives and ensure proper training of employees. This is really good forward thinking, and I commend McDonald's for doing it."

The president of the National Pork Board says he is disappointed by the McDonald's announcement noting that the decision could put significant pressure on smaller farmers who use gestation stalls to care for their animals. Everett Forkner, a farmer from Richards, Mo., and president of NPB comments: "For a producer who has built a new bard in the past few years, McDonald's announced timeline could force them to make significant new investments. So to make the conversion, my fellow producers are going to have to go to a banker with a plan that is likely to increase costs and reduce productivity - not a plan that is likely to inspire great confidence in a banker or investor."

Forkner says publicly held pork production companies with access to capital and bond markets may be able to make the conversion more easily. "And that's fine if that's what they choose to do," he says. "We believe consumers ultimately are likely to pay these higher production costs. But in the meantime, the additional expenses on farmers forced to make this conversion could increase the risk of them having to leave the business."

NPB's position, Forkner says, continues to be that peer-reviewed research shows overwhelmingly that both individual stalls and open pens are appropriate ways to provide good care to pregnant sows. These decisions mean that farmers are being told by others which of the two systems works best on their farms.

Another McDonald's Animal Welfare Council member - Ed Pajor, professor of animal welfare, University of Calgary, commented in the company statement: "Any system will have animal welfare concerns, but I see real opportunity for innovation and better alternatives. This plan provides a ten-year window for McDonald's producers and suppliers to develop practical and sustainable implementation steps to achieve the phase out of sow gestation stalls."

NPB's Forkner adds: "We fully support continuing to explore new and better ways to protect pregnant sows. Farmers are adopting improvements all the time as they study their farms and their animals. Going backward, though, will just put a huge financial burden on smaller pig farmers while doing nothing to improve the health and well-being of the pigs."