Landmark animal welfare policy announced by Burger King rules

Farm animal welfare is getting a lot of attention from the restaurant industry these days and rightly so. A report put out this month by Technomic, a food industry trade publication, indicated that 73 percent of consumers see claims of “humanely raised” as significant to their purchasing decisions. Recognizing the importance of reducing the suffering of animals raised to produce their sausage, bacon, and eggs, Burger King Corp., the second largest burger chain in the country, announced a sweeping new animal welfare policy today. The company will, within five years, ensure the pork, bacon, and eggs it uses do not come from mother pigs who were confined in gestation crates or hens confined in tiny battery cages.

While some companies have taken small steps to move away from eggs produced from hens in tiny cages, Burger King is the first major company in the U.S. to make a commitment of this scale. Operating more than 12,500 locations worldwide, Burger King Corp. wields a lot of purchasing power. Commitments like this one and those being made by other major fast food companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s are sure to bring suppliers to the table to stop the practice of confining animals in spaces so small they can’t even turn around for virtually their entire lives.

“Burger King Corp. has demonstrated when it comes to America’s largest fast food chains, it continues to set the standard,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS in a news release. “These changes by Burger King Corp. will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain.”

The companies dragging their heels on making improvements are failing to recognize that there’s more to the bottom line than dollars and cents. Smarter customers don’t support the lifelong confinement of animals in small crates and cages and they’re going to start asking questions. It would be wise for companies to start thinking outside the crate.

Hens left to starve at California Egg Farm

What would you do if you could no longer afford to feed your dog? It would be tragic, though most thoughtful people would try to find someone else who could care for the dog, or contact the local humane society for help.

Earlier this week a call came in to Stanislaus Animal Services Agency in California reporting that a chicken farmer, no longer able to afford to care for the animals, had abandoned his chickens. We’re not talking about a few birds. He left 50,000 birds in cages without food and water for more than two weeks. Animal services told the Turlock Journal that about 15,000 chickens were found dead in their cages by the time they got there.

As soon as news of the abused birds hit the wire, animal protection groups jumped to their rescue. Harvest Home Sanctuary arrived as soon as they got news of the abandoned birds to start pulling surviving hens from their cages. Over the course of the last two days, volunteers have worked around the clock to rescue chickens who, having not eaten or had water for weeks, were on the verge of death. Some birds had fallen into the liquid manure pit where they were slowly dying.

In all, close to 5,000 birds were pulled out of their cramped cages by Harvest Home, Animal Place, and Farm Sanctuary. And although the birds are in caring hands, they’re not in the clear yet. Many are still suffering from dehydration, crippling leg disorders, and other ailments as a result of not only their abandonment, but their cage confinement in general.

The story is shocking and tragic, but it’s not the first time this has happened. The problem is not just neglectful owners who shun their responsibilities. The problem is looking at animals not as living, sentient beings, but rather a production unit to be abandoned when times get tough. Each and every one of those chickens who perished on the farms was a life, who in an ideal setting would feel the sun on her back; who in an ideal setting would lay her eggs to later raise chicks and teach them how to search for insects, to scratch around, and how to avoid danger. And who would flap around in the dust, soaking up the sun and the fresh air.

Those birds never stood a chance. They never had a moment of sunshine but spent their entire short, miserable lives in a dark, ammonia-filled warehouse where their lives were wrought with suffering. The surviving birds now have a chance to live more natural lives.

I’m grateful for those individuals who spent the last two days working around the clock to bring them to safety. And for those birds who perished, I can only take comfort in hoping that more people will recognize that by supporting industrial animal agribusiness, by eating milk, eggs and dairy, they are supporting an industry whose members walk away from tens of thousands of animals and allow them to die rather than picking up the phone and asking for help.

Rescuing animals and nursing them to help is a costly venture. Please consider making a donation to Harvest Home, Animal Place, and Farm Sanctuary.

Helping hens

Today is a landmark day for America’s egg-laying hens. The first ever federal legislation to protect them, H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, was introduced with the support of The Humane Society of the United States and The United Egg Producers. Currently about 250 million hens are confined in tiny, barren cages called “battery cages” for the purpose of egg production. Each cage contains 5-8 birds and the space allowance per-bird is less than a standard sheet of paper! These cages are devoid of perches, scratching areas, nesting boxes—things that are highly important for hens’ good welfare. The birds live like that, unable to take more than a few steps or even spread their wings, for their entire 12-18 month production cycle until they’re slaughtered.

As of now, there’s not a single federal law to protect animals raised for food while on the farm. And most state laws exempt animals being raised for agricultural purposes. If passed, H.R. 3798 would essentially double the space requirement for each egg-laying hen and birds would be provided enrichments like a nesting box and scratch pad. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a lot better than the barren environments that they currently suffer in.

The legislation would also ban forced molting by starvation. It’s currently legal to starve birds to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. Though it’s against UEP standards, there are still tens of thousands of egg laying hens raised by non-UEP certified producers. The legislation, too, would create a labeling program that would require the type of system in which the eggs were produced to be indicated on cartons (i.e., “eggs from caged hens” and “eggs from cage-free hens”) so consumers are able to make informed purchasing decisions.

It’s important that we all support this monumental legislation and The Humane Society of the United States has made that very easy. You can fill out a web form here to contact your U.S. Representative to ask them to support the legislation. It’ll only take a minute and could do a world of good.

How are Egg McMuffins produced?

Chicago-based Mercy for Animals released an undercover investigation into a McDonald’s egg supplier today. The results of the investigation were not unlike those of previous investigations. Using a hidden camera, a Mercy for Animals investigator went undercover at battery cage egg factory farms in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado that were owned by Sparboe Egg Farms. Up until the exposé was revealed, all of the eggs used by McDonald’s locations west of the Mississippi River came from a Sparboe facility in Iowa.

The exposé documented rodents, insects, and large numbers of mummified corpses of dead birds in cages with live birds still laying eggs for human consumption. According to ABC News, “Citing “serious” and “significant violations” at five different locations, the FDA cited [Sparpoe with] at least 13 violations of the recently enacted federal egg rule meant to prevent dangerous salmonella outbreaks.”

In addition, the investigator filmed egregious conditions like “workers grabbing hens by their throats and ramming them into battery cages … a worker tormenting a bird by swinging her around in the air while her legs were caught in a grabbing device – violence described as “torture” by another worker … a worker shoving a bird into the pocket of another employee without any regard for the animal’s fear and suffering,” and more.

The Mercy for Animals investigator filmed routine standard agricultural practices like the intensive confinement of hens in tiny wire cages so small each bird has less space than two-thirds of a sheet of paper on which to spend her entire twelve to eighteen month life; chicks having the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot blade without a drop of painkiller and live chicks slowly suffocated to death in plastic bags.

Sadly, although all fifty states have anti-cruelty laws, most of what the Mercy for Animals investigator documented, like debeaking, intensive confinement, and suffocation of baby chicks are considered standard agricultural procedures and it’s unlikely law enforcement will take any punitive action against Sparboe. McDonald’s, for its part, decided to switch suppliers telling ABC News, “McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner.”

McDonald’s will continue to purchase the vast majority of its eggs from suppliers that, like Sparboe, confine their hens in cages. I don’t know about you, but I think keeping animals confined in spaces so small they can’t move more than a few inches without touching another bird or the sides of their cages could never be considered humane. If McDonald’s truly cares about animal welfare, it will enact a policy requiring its egg and pork suppliers not to confine their animals in cages or crates. You can help by signing Mercy for Animals’ petition encouraging McDonald’s to stop purchasing eggs from caged hens and of course never buying them yourself.