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.

Starting today

I gave a talk tonight at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. to a small, but impassioned audience. Davidson is a liberal arts college that was founded pre- civil war. It’s the anchor of this friendly community about 20 miles north of Charlotte.

Vegetable garden at Davidson College

Before the talk, I had the opportunity to meet with student food activists, professors of ethics and environmental studies, and staff who work in dining services and school operations to discuss ways the school could improve animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Farm animal welfare is more my area of expertise; I’m still a student in the other area.

Davidson is already participating in an impressive number of initiatives. The school has switched its egg purchasing to cage-free, has switched to a pork producer that is moving away from using gestation crates for confining its breeding pigs, and is switching beef producers to a natural beef company. They’re also participating in Meatless Monday.

Aside from purchasing higher welfare animal products, the school has an herb and vegetable garden and an active composting program. The school has diverted more than ninety percent of its waste! Students have started a food cart that sells healthy and sustainable food on campus to students and faculty. I’ve heard another student was responsible for starting the Davidson Farmers’ Market, which is a thriving Saturday farmers’ market in the community. Dining services director, Dee Phillips, told us that they’re already serving only fair trade coffee and now she’s working to source only fair trade chocolate.

This is a school that cares about sustainability and is walking the walk. Dee said of her work that she learned about animal welfare issues during a meeting when her group purchasing organization hosted the Humane Society of the United States to discuss cage-free eggs. She realized she couldn’t do everything, and certainly that she might not be able to do it all immediately, but she could do something, so she switched to cage-free eggs right away. It’s wonderful to see someone so passionate about doing the right thing. We can all do our part, starting today.