A step toward improvement, though, emanated from McDonald's on Monday. According to an article ("McDonald’s Set to Phase Out Suppliers’ Use of Sow Crates") in yesterday's New York Times,
"The McDonald’s Corporation said on Monday that it would begin working with its pork suppliers to phase out the use of so-called gestational crates, the tiny stalls in which sows are housed while pregnant.For a great analysis of the importance of this decision, click here to read Mark Bittman's column ("OMG: McDonald's Does the Right Thing") that appears in the Times' online edition today.
"Animal rights advocates have singled out the crates, known as sow stalls, as inhumane, and several states have moved to ban or restrict their use not only in pork production, but also in the production of eggs and veal.
“'McDonald’s believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future,' Dan Gorsky, senior vice president for supply chain management for McDonald’s North America, said in a statement. 'There are alternatives we think are better for the welfare of sows.”'
"At a little more than 2 feet by 7 feet, sow stalls are too small for a pregnant pig to turn around. Being confined in a stationary position for the four months of an average pregnancy leads to a variety of health problems, including urinary tract infections, weakened bone structures, overgrown hooves and mental stress, according to animal rights advocates.
"About 60 to 70 percent of the more than five million breeding sows in the United States are kept in the crates."
"The effect on the industry will be huge, because in the world of big-time meat supply, there are two kinds of producers: those who sell to McDonald’s and those wish they could.
"Switching from gestation crates to group sow housing is more labor- and capital-intensive, requiring changes that will take money and time, so an 18-month turnaround is unrealistic. But it’s likely that within a few years gestation crates will be history for most pork producers, and that’s a major victory."