OAKBROOK, May 31 – In a bow to animal rights groups, McDonald’s Corporation said that, by 2022, the fast-food giant will no longer buy any pork from suppliers that use gestation stalls to confine pregnant sows.
In February, the firm had announced plans to “assess the current state of sow housing” and to develop next steps for gestation stall phase out in cooperation with suppliers, pork producers and animal welfare experts. The 10-year plan announced Thursday builds on that process by creating an interim step by 2017, under which McDonald's will seek to source pork for its U.S. business only from producers who share its commitment to phase out gestation stalls.
To achieve this, McDonald's 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.
"We value our relationship with our suppliers, and our shared commitment to animal welfare," said Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of McDonald's North America Supply Chain Management. "Our approach seeks to build on the work already in place, and we are also sensitive to the needs of the smaller, independent pork producers in phasing out of gestation stalls."
Animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin supported the move.
"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," said Grandin, who also serves as a member of McDonald's Animal Welfare Council. "This is really good forward thinking, and I commend McDonald's for doing it."
However, the president of the National Pork Board, Everett Forkner, expressed disappointment with the decision and said it could put significant pressure on smaller farmers who use gestation stalls to care for their animals.
“For a producer who has built a new barn in the past few years, McDonald’s announced timeline could force them to make significant new investments,” said Forkner. “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 said 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 said. “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.”
Forkner said the National Pork Board’s position 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, he said.
“I’ve been in this business a long time,” Forkner said. “I know on my own farm I moved from open pens to stalls many years ago because too many sows were being injured or denied feed. When sows are thrown together they can become very aggressive. Dominant sows physically attack the others, bite them and steal their food. The housing used by most farmers was designed to protect sows from this bullying while they are most vulnerable, during their pregnancies.
“We fully support continuing to explore new and better ways to protect pregnant sows,” Forkner said. “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 our pigs.”
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