McDonalds Says No To Sow Stalls

On Monday, McDonald’s announced that it will seek to have its pork suppliers phase out the use of gestational crates by May. Animal rights advocates have long opposed the use of “sow stalls,” which are barely over 2 feet by 7 feet in size. 60 to 70 percent of the more than 5 million breeding sows in the US are kept in such very close quarters; the crates can cause a number of health problems including urinary tract infections, weakened bone structures, overgrown hooves and mental health issues.

The New York Times’ Mark Bittman offers praise to McDonalds for “doing the right thing.” His description of gestational crates makes it all too clear why such an inhumane and unethical practice must end:

a gestation crate is an individual metal stall so small that the sow cannot turn around; most sows spend not only their pregnancies in crates, but most of their lives. For humans, this would qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment,” and even if you believe that pigs are somehow “inferior,” it’s hard to rationalize gestation crates once you see what they look like.

Needless to say, the pork industry is less than pleased.

McDonalds — the fourth-largest employer in the world – only buys one percent of the pork supply but the fast food giant’s decision to buy crate-free pork will have significant repercussions in how pigs are raised. In 1999, after McDonalds announced it would gives its caged hens 72 inches of space instead of 48, other fast-food chains were quick to do the same. Dr. Jodi Sterle, an expert on swine reproductive management at Iowa State University, is quoted by the New York Times as noting that there is “no easy alternative to sow stalls .. because feeding pigs is complicated by their hierarchical nature.” She points out that, when pigs are raised in groups, there is competition “for food, water and space, and especially for food”; with McDonalds’ decision to phase out crate-raised pork, the industry will have all the more reason to find ethical ways to raise the animals.

In Search of Sustainable Agricultural Practices For Fast Food Suppliers

Burger King was the first major fast-food company to reduce the amount of pork produced in gestational crates back in 2007, around the same time that it began to use cage-free eggs. The world’s largest produced of pork, Smithfield Foods, said that it would end the use of the creates by 2017, only to postpone such a change during the recession. It has now again said that it will cease to use gestational crates by 2017, following an undercover investigation. Cargill Foods says that it is 50 percent crate-free and Hormel Foods has recently said it will end the use of the crates in 2017, too.

Several states including California and Florida already have laws banning the use of crates in the meat and dairy industries. The Humane Society had recently increased its pressure on McDonalds.

While praising McDonalds, Bittman says, and rightly so, that we should in no way let the mega-company off the hook. Many other issues remain to be addressed such as the fast food chain’s actual food offerings, its relationship to the labor force and the marketing of its menu items to children via Happy Meals and splashy advertising.

Last summer, Krispy Kreme announced that it was switching to use cage-free eggs. We can keep up the pressure on big companies to practice sustainable agriculture and treat animals humanely and ethically. We are what we eat: Do we really want to eat a meal that was raised in a crate?


Related Care2 Coverage

Largest US Pork Producer Ignores Welfare Promises

Blood on the Egg McMuffins, Buying Cruelty with Breakfast

Krispy Kreme To Use Cage-Free Eggs

Photo by via Wikimedia Commons


William C
William C1 years ago

Thank you for the news.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Syd Henley
Syd H6 years ago

Why don't McDonalds demand that all their meat products come from FREE RANGE farms. These multinational fast food companies like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Subway, along with the huge Supermarket chains, have such massive buying power that the meat producing companies would be so frightened of loosing such lucrative supply contracts, that they would immediately switch to humane animal production methods.
I doubt that such action would put a single penny or cent on to the cost of a burger, but even if it did it would be worth it to know that the animals had been humanely treated and had a reasonably decent life.

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

How can a "human being" be so inhumane???

Alison B.
Alison Bruce6 years ago

I'd sign the petition but the form doesn't accept my postal code as a zip code.

Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton6 years ago

Good news!

lesley turnbull
lesley turnbull6 years ago

The sooner the better. I wish i had known about this before this site. They have (you all have) taught me so much about animal welfare and although I am horrified, so much about the rest of the world and even our country and their disregard for our four legged friends. Thank you. Now I know how much work there is to be done.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

M S, they do offer vegetarian and even vegan choices. If you know that a chain doesn't have what you want, is anyone forcing you to go there? I'm not vegan, so I think I'd object if I was FORCED to go to a vegan restaurant, and there are those around, but it is my choice. I don't patronize McDonald's, personally, but it's not because they don't have vegan choices, just that I don't choose to eat what they do offer, either, except sometimes an ice cream cone. The ONLY fast food place I do patronize is Subway, and I know for a fact they offer veggie sandwiches and many have vegan choices.

McDonald's started out as a place to get cheap hamburgers. They've expanded what they offer a hundred times over, so why is it now necessary to offer vegan food? If you're vegan, don't go there. Simple.

m Shiel
M s6 years ago

why can't the food chains offer vegan choices and promote that? If everyone avoided meat 3 x week there would be millions of animals not suffering