McDonald’s has recently joined the list of fast-food restaurants and wholesalers taking steps to trash gestation crates and improve the standard of living for pregnant sows at pork production facilities.
The Humane Society of the United States has been lobbying the pork and restaurant industries to phase out gestation crates. Burger King was the first on board, followed by Safeway, Wendy’s and Denny’s. This week Kroger’s, the nation’s largest grocery chain, accelerated its phase-out plan. Wholesalers Smithfield, Cargill and Hormel have also made noises about phasing out some percentage of gestation crates some day.
McDonald’s originally announced in February that it would phase out gestation crates, but only last week committed to a timetable for ending its purchases from wholesalers that use gestation crates.
Gestation crates are small metal cages only two feet wide that prevent pregnant pigs from turning around and even lying down comfortably. Sows spend most of their adult lives in these crates as they are inseminated soon after they give birth and thus kept pregnant over four out of every five months. Gestation crates cripple pregnant pigs and cause obesity. The fumes and toxins produced from the concentration of so many animals in one space [who must urinate and defecate where they stand] sicken them (and the humans who “take care of” them). Pigs are smart animals, and the constant confinement, lack of activity or stimulation, and pain lead to neurotic behaviors like biting the bars of their cages over and over, or chewing on nothing.
The industry seems to be reaching a consensus that gestation crates are no longer politically or commercially viable, but eliminating gestation crates does not mean that life will be hunky-dory for pigs raised for food. For starters, they are slaughtered young, and they are bred to grow so large that they suffer health problems. Then there are practices that no one seems to be phasing out like tail docking without anesthetic, denying pigs access to the outdoors and the opportunity to engage in instinctual behaviors like rooting in the ground, keeping sows pregnant nearly their entire lives and barring nursing sows from nurturing their young by imprisoning them in tiny farrowing crates.
The Humane Society of the U.S. is making headway in its battle against gestation crates, but there are so many more battles to be fought just to make the lives of animals raised for food bearable — not to mention the ultimate battle to end the exploitation of animals for food.
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