McDonald’s to laying hens: “You deserve a break next year.”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2000:

OAK BROOK, Ill.––McDonald’s
Restaurants on August 22 ordered its 27 egg
suppliers to stop starving hens for five to 21
days at the end of their first laying cycle.
Starvation forces hens to molt, normally
within 10 to 14 days, and triggers a
second laying cycle among those who survive
the enforced famine.
After the second laying cycle, the
hens reach the state of skeletal mineral depletion
referred to in the industry as “spent,”
and are killed.
Forced molts, practiced by an estimated
90% of U.S. egg producers, are
increasingly associated with bacterial infections
among hens, which are sometimes
passed to humans. The tendency of egg producers
to try to prevent the infections with
prophylactic antibiotic dosage is believed to
have stimulated the recent rapid evolution of
antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including strains
of campylobacter and salmonella that sicken
thousands of humans per year.

McDonald’s ordered that forced
molts be ended by the close of the first quarter
of 2001, ordered a gradual phase-out of
debeaking, and further ordered that egg producers
by the end of 2001 increase floor
space per hen confined within so-called battery
caging. The present average of 50 square
inches per hen is to rise to 72 square inches.
McDonald’s buys about 1.5 billion
eggs per year, accounting for between 2%
and 3% of all U.S. egg consumption.
“We have one of the world’s
biggest shopping carts, so when we take
action it tends to have impact,” McDonald’s
spokesperson Walt Riker told Chicago SunTimes
staff reporter Neil Steinberg.
That was the perspective of the late
Animal Rights International founder and
Coalition for Nonviolent Food coordinator
Henry Spira, who in 1989 via then-American
SPCA president John Kullberg moved to
place before the McDonald’s annual meeting
a shareholders’ resolution calling for part of
McDonalds’ profits to be spent on programs
to improve the lives of farm animals.
The resolution was withdrawn

when McDonald’s agreed to survey the
animal husbandry practices of its egg
and meat suppliers, and issue a position
statement on animal welfare.
There was no further progress
until toward the end of 1993, when
Spira and Simon Billenness of the
Franklin Research and Development
Corporation again advanced a shareholders’
resolution. This one would have
mandated that “animals should be
housed, fed, and transported in a practical
manner least restrictive of their physical
and behavioral needs,” that “animals
should be afforded individual veterinary
care when needed,” and that
“methods used should be designed to
produce a quick and humane death.”
Like the first proposed shareholders’
resolution, it had no chance of
passage, but created awareness. Spira
and Billenness withdrew it in February
1994, after McDonald’s sent to all suppliers
a statement entitled M c D o n a l d ’ s
and the Humane Treatment of Animals.
“McDonald’s believes the
humane treatment of animals, from
birth and throughout their lives, is a
moral responsibility,” the statement
read. “McDonald’s fully respects the
independence of its suppliers and
requires them to adhere to pertinant
laws, regulations, and industry guidelines
concerning the humane treatment
of animals such as those recommended
by the American Meat Institute.”
This appeared promising, as
the AMI guidelines, drafted in 1991 by
Colorado State University livestock
expert Temple Grandin, are notably
stronger than the standards set by the
federal Humane Slaughter Act.
Further, the 1994 McDonald’s
statement said, “where those guidelines
do not show sufficient concern for the
humane treatment of animals, suppliers
should take all reasonable steps to assure
that animals raised, transported, and
slaughtered for McDonald’s products are
treated humanely.”
McDonald’s also said in 1994
that it would “require that each supplier
submit to us an annual written statement,
signed by its Chief Executive Officer,
confirming that it is in compliance with
this statement (or explaining where and
why it is not in compliance, and when
compliance can be expected).”
But again McDonald’s failed
to follow up in a verifiable manner. In
June 1997 Justice Roger Bell of Britain
technically found for McDonald’s in a
defamation case brought against activists
David Morris, then 43, and Helen Steel,
then 31, but sustained the Morris and
Steel allegation that McDonald’s is “culpably
responsible” for “cruel practice”
pertaining to factory-farmed chickens
and pigs. Spira formed the 51-member
International Coalition for Farm Animals
to persuade McDonald’s to respond to
the verdict with tangible action.
By May 1998 McDonald’s had
hired a corporate animal welfare director,
one Fernando Gomez Gonzalez,
who had testified for McDonald’s
against Morris and Steel. McDonald’s
had also hired Temple Grandin as an animal
welfare consultant.
Spira reaffirmed his intent to
get McDonald’s to follow through on its
animal welfare commitments in his last
conversation with ANIMAL PEOPLE,
two days before he died on September
12, 1998, but was unable to pursue it.
In September 1999, however,
People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals vegetarian campaign coordinator
Bruce Friedrich on the anniversary of
Spira’s death announced “a series of inyour-face
billboards and advertisements
attacking McDonald’s,” and a month
later hit McDonald’s restaurants around
the world with a day of protest.
A series of “Unhappy Meals”
demonstrations followed.
“PETA will not be happy until
we sell only beans and rice,” McDonald’s
chair Jack Greenberg reportedly
said at the company’s 2000 annual
meeting. McDonald’s spokespersons
denied that the PETA onslaught had anything
to do with the August 22 anouncements
pertaining to laying hens, but
other observers were less certain.
“So far, McDonald’s has
managed the difficult challenge of
responding to its environmental and animal
rights critics without becoming
hostage to them,” wrote C h i c a g o
Tribune columnist David Greising.
“Now McDonald’s has put
itself in a difficult position. It has
acknowledged the need for change, but
must avoid becoming an even bigger target
by doing so,” as happened to Procter
& Gamble after it pledged to Spira in
1984 that it would fund the development
and quest for regulatory approval of
alternatives to animal testing.
Although P&G has spent more
than $100 million in the effort to date––
more than all corporate rivals combined,
––cutting its lab use of animals by twothirds,
it remains under boycott by both
PETA and In Defense of Animals. Most
other major home chemical makers have
never even been picketed.
“It’s a tough spot,” continued
Greising, “but a better place than where
McDonald’s stood just a few days ago.
In that sense, McDonald’s has a bit in
common with the chickens.”
PETA response
Illinois activist Steven J.
Gross, identified by Washington Post
staff writer Marc Kaufman as “a negotiator
for PETA in its discussions with
McDonald’s,” said he was “very appreciative
of what McDonald’s has done.
Other companies in this field have been
dragging their feet,” Gross told
Kaufman, “and frankly, we think this
will wake them up.”
Gross is also involved with
Illinois Humane PAC executive director
Don Rolla in petitioning the Illinois legislature
for action against forced molting
and battery caging.
But Friedrich told Steinberg
that the McDonald’s order didn’t go far
enough. “Seventy-two square inches
isn’t even a sheet of paper,” Friedrich
said. “Seventy-two square inches means
they are going to stop putting seven hens
into a 20-by-18-inch cage, and start
putting in five. Five hens in a space the
size of a file drawer! Not one can spread
her wings. This is abusive.”
United Egg Producers, the
leading egg industry trade association,
recommends that laying hens be given
just 48 square inches apiece, but
Kaufman said the UEP scientific advisory
committee recently recommended
changes “very similar to those adopted
by McDonald’s.”
The USDA is investigating
how egg production methods affects the
health of children via the federal school
lunch program, Kaufman added.
“Analysts called [McDonald’s
declaration] a potentially profitable business
move, to win credit for taking a
step that might otherwise be required by
government,” Kaufman reported.
Spira’s successors at Animal
Rights International in April and May
2000 asked ANIMAL PEOPLE readers
via full-page advertisements to write to
the USDA requesting that federal rules
be adopted against forced molting,
debeaking, and bettery caging.
California state assembly
member Ted Lempert (D-Palo Alto)
meanwhile introduced a bill to ban
forced molting, drafted with the help of
United Poultry Concerns and the
Humane Farming Association. Like the
McDonald’s shareholders’ resolutions
introduced by Spira, it had no chance of
passage, but helped to raise awareness.
The European Union has
already banned forced molts. In mid-
1999 the EU also ordered that battery
caging be totally phased out by 2001.
The McDonald’s announcement
came just four days after the
Australia/New Zealand council of state
agricultural ministers (ARMCANZ)
rejected a proposed 20-year phase-out of
battery caging, requested by Royal
SPCA president Hugh Wirth, and
instead allowed battery caging to continue
for at least 20 more years, if the
space per hen is increased by about 20%.
The Wirth proposal was considered
pitifully weak by the animal
rights organizations Animals Australia
and Action Animal––whose founder
Patty Mark reportedly stormed Wirth’s
office with 11 supporters on August 7,
unsuccessfully demanding that the
RSPCA should treat several injured hens
they had seized from the Nature’s Dozen
Egg Farm, north of Melbourne. Mark
told media that the conditions there were
the worst she had seen in 22 years of
campaigning on behalf of hens.
The magnitude of poultry suffering
was meanwhile shown when the
August heat killed 100,000 chickens in a
single coop at Abashiri, Hokkaido,
Japan, and about 170,000 chickens in
Mississippi, while a fire killed 250,000
in Versailles, Ohio, apparently without
causing the loss of more than 8% of the
flock at any one of the affected sites.
Vegetarians International
Voice for Animals director Juliet
Gellatley was optimistic on July 26 that
consumer power may limit the spread
into duck production of factory farming
techniques developed on chickens. Six
months after VIVA! began addressing
duck debeaking and overcrowding,
Gellatley said, all six major British
supermarket chains had agreed to stop
selling debeaked ducks, and Kerry
Foods, identified as “the only U.K. supplier
of Barbary duck,” had agreed that
“Ducks will now be provided with bales
of hay to break up flock sizes and provide
material for pecking to alleviate the
boredom inside the crowded sheds.”

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