McDonald's Has Missed a Deadline on a Bacon Pledge It Made a Decade Ago
It seems that pigs will fly before McDonald's does right by the Humane Society. After promising in 2012 to stop working with pork producers that use gestation stalls by 2022, the burger chain is now, a decade later, asking for a two-year extension.
Gestation stalls are small crates used by pig farmers to house pregnant animals. Typically two feet in width, the stalls do not allow much room for movement and have been connected with a number of health issues in pigs—including UTIs, bone fragility, overgrown hooves, and anxiety. Use of the stalls has been common practice on pig farms since the '70s.
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McDonald's vowed to stop procuring pork for its bacon and McRib patties from farmers using these abusive practices but has recently confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that it would not be meeting its 2022 deadline, citing Covid-related delays and multiple outbreaks of swine disease. The company is now aiming for a complete phaseout of gestation stalls by 2024.
The U.S. Humane Society has been working to eliminate gestation stalls since 2002. In the past two decades, the nonprofit has made progress, with the sale of gestation stall pork banned in multiple states and large pork producers like Applegate Farms and Niman Ranch fully divested from the practice.
McDonald's 2012 promise was a big win for the Humane Society, secured with the help of Carl Icahn, the famous billionaire activist investor. Icahn is a proponent of animal rights and partnered with the Humane Society after learning about the widespread use of gestation stalls.
Now that McDonald's has backed out of its original commitment, Icahn is threatening to seek board representation at McDonald's—and to pursue the phaseout from within the company. With his personal net worth hovering around 16.8 billion, it's not out of the realm of possibility.
McDonald's is in a position to change standard practices around pork in the fast-food industry. When, in 1999, the company demanded more cage space for chickens—other major chains followed suit. A timely phaseout of gestation stalls would be another step in the right direction.