Less than a year after announcing a commitment to purchase one million cage free eggs every month for use in its U.S. restaurant locations, the McDonald’s Corporation announced earlier this week that it will also begin working on a plan with its pork suppliers to eliminate the controversial gestation crates used to confine pregnant sows.
Considered to be one of the cruelest, most inhumane factory farm practices, gestation crates—which are home to nearly 70 percent of the more than five million pregnant sows in the U.S.—are so restricting that pigs are unable to turn around inside the 2 feet by 7 feet stalls. Similar crating systems are already banned in several U.S. states including California and Florida, as many health problems arise for animals forced into stationary positions for months on end. Hoof and foot infections, stress, bone loss, urinary tract infections and other issues resulting from crating livestock have led farmers to employ excessive use of antibiotics and other drugs to treat and prevent illnesses, causing a rise in antibiotic-resistant pathogens that threaten human health.
Already, several of McDonald’s largest pork suppliers have reduced the number of gestation crates used, and the restaurant chain’s Canadian bacon suppliers have been asked to make adjustments to their handling of sows as well. But, the process is complicated by the ‘pecking order’ of pigs raised in groups. Competition for food among the hierarchy has made isolating the pregnant sow the easiest method for ensuring she gets enough to eat, but the practice, which is vilified by animal rights advocates for its excessive cruelty, has not been met yet with a more effective and less inhumane method of providing the pregnant sows with enough nutrients. Still, suppliers are experimenting with new technology to speed up the transition away from gestation crates.
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