The Eat with Care blog

Writing about humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian. Your comments and feedback welcome. (All replies are screened and posted, if thoughtful and respectful.)

McDonald’s to phase out gestation crates

February 16, 2012

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

This is a model of a gestation crate. It’s the kind of crate where a factory-farmed sow (female pig) is kept when she is pregnant – which ends up being most of her life, since industrial food companies breed sows nearly constantly, for maximum profit. A sow in a gestation crate literally cannot turn around, cannot come in contact with other pigs, and has nothing to occupy her mind for her entire 3-month pregnancy.

There’s been a huge outcry against gestation crates (8 states have banned them), and this week, seeing the writing on the wall, McDonald’s announced it will ask its pork suppliers to develop plans to phase them out. It’s unclear what the timetable is, and McDonald’s might drag their heels, but Humaneitarian will let you know of any opportunities to contact the Golden Arches and put pressure on them to speed up this change.

Gestation crates, by the way, were developed because pregnant sows tend to become violent with each other. But a form of group housing can prevent this problem and will probably be adopted widely in America some day – if consumers like us keep demanding humane meat.

Here’s a good article from the Chicago Tribune that puts this announcement by McDonald’s in the context of the chain’s history.  Update: On March 22, 2012, the fast food chain Wendy’s also announced that it is working with its suppliers to phase out gestation crates.

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  1. Preston Harrelson says:

    What you don’t understand is, with the proposed large group pens that McDonald’s is demanding is more unsanitary than the crates. With the removal of crates, most hog farmers will start to use a cheap pen with little to no drainage, where sows will be packed together in large numbers. When sows are packed together like this, large scale fighting will occur which could cause lesions and in severe cases, abortion of the sow, which could ultimately lead to the death of the sow. Another problem with these large group pens is that the amount of feed each sow eats is unregulated, and some sows will overeat, and others will under eat. When you remove these crates, you are exchanging a lesser “evil” for a larger “evil”. People don’t realize how much worse the group pens are than the crates. The crates offer good drainage of feces, which will lower disease risk, and each sow gets the regulated amount of food. In most cases, the sows are supposed to have some sort of shavings or bedding, whereas in the group pens, farmers will not provide bedding. Please people, understand that the crates are for the benefit of the consumer. They may not be ideal conditions for the sow, but trust me; the group pens are way lower conditions. If crates are removed, there will be a (possibly dramatic) increase in disease to the consumer, let alone the sow itself.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your comment, Preston. This is an argument made by the pork industry. However, group housing for sows is being used in Europe, where gestation crates are being phased out, and I understand that the Europeans are not having problems with the alternative system. If you have info to the contraray, send it along. I’m interested in knowing more about what’s happening over there.