BEEF Daily

Do You Support McDonald’s Stance On Gestation Crates?


Did McDonald’s make a positive move in looking to eliminate gestation stalls among its pork suppliers? Our readers weigh in.

As a cattle producer, I’m proud that today’s beef industry looks much the same as it did 100 years ago. Cattle drives are still commonplace. Ranchers still rely on horses to work the herd. Cattle spend much of their time on rolling pastures. And, the cowboy spirit is alive and well.

They say the West wasn’t won on a salad, and it’s true. American beef is a longheld tradition in this country. Whether it’s a romantic dinner date, the celebration of a new job promotion or a gathering of friends during a summer barbecue, steak is a favorite among Americans, and grain-fed beef is king, growing in popularity around the globe.

Behind every quality steak is a quality rancher who cares. Animal care, environmental stewardship, food safety, nutrition and taste are backed by strong family values, time-honored traditions and a deep-rooted faith that drives us to keep moving forward in production agriculture, even when the going gets tough.

And, while this blog is dedicated to covering beef topics, there are times when I feel it’s important to diverge into other areas, as well. For example, did you read my response to Chipotle’s latest commercial, an obscene piece of propaganda that demonizes the pork industry?

I’ve got to give props to the pork folks -- after all, a filet mignon goes from succulent to divine when wrapped in bacon, right? Today’s pork producers share the same values as beef producers; we are families working hard to put safe, wholesome products on the dinner table. While we are sustainably improving our efficiencies to feed a growing world, I realize modern agriculture production isn’t perfect, and retailers are starting to place demands on producers to change the way they do business. Last week, McDonald’s Corp. announced that it would ask its pork suppliers to outline their plans for phasing out the use of sow gestation stalls.

Our latest poll at BEEF magazine asks readers the following: “Is McDonald’s announcement on phasing out gestation stalls a good idea?”

With 216 votes in already, 65% say, “Yes, if consumers want it and it’s best for the animals.” 32% say, “No. It isn’t better for the animals. And, 6% aren’t sure.

What’s your take? Vote in our poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 23

Bill Johnson (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

It was inevitable that this would happen. Competition in the fast food industry is fierce and no one can afford to risk alienating a potential consumer. Since most consumers are completely unaware of where their food originates or how it is produced, appealing to them to buy your product goes beyond quality, safety and price. They need to "feel good" about buying your product and this is an attempt to capture that advantage. Competition in the pork industry then leads to producers being forced to accomodate the "feel good" philosophy if they wish to survive.

Bob Lyons (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

Yes, I support use of farrowing crates. Most sows are only in the crate for 10-14 days and they save more pigs, better care of the pigs result, and the cost of producing pork is lower. I live among Amish and some send their sows to the woods to farrow and seldom do the sows save more than six pigs, and the sows have fewer litters in their lifetime than well managed sows farrowing in confined farrowing facilities.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

No it isn't better for the animals.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

Amanda you have done some amazing work on communicating the values of todays agriculture, but by even throwing this discussion out you fragment the two-percent of American's that produce this great food.

You don't see the National Pork Board or Pork Producer's Associations saying 'what do you think of castration or branding of calves without anesthetics' so why this topic and McDonalds?

Know you heart is 100% in the right place, but don't play into their hands by dividing our protein producers more. Because quite frankly, their aren't enough of us to not stand together.

Randy McKee (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

I'm not sure McDonald's as a corporation cares about that or not. What they do care about is profits. Our society is influenced more and more by people who don't understand the animal part of agriculture and others who are malicious toward animal agriculture. Rather than hiding the conversation, like the prior poster wants, let's get it out in the open and talk about it.

As animal producers, you need to know what your end-user is thinking. And that end user is not the feedlot owner or the packer. That end user is that mom who is deciding how to spend her hard-earned budget on a nutritious, safe (and flavorful) food source for her family. Many of the young women who have moved into these decision-making roles have been heavily influenced by the anti-animal agriculture organizations far more than their predecessors were. As producers you absolutely must understand the evolving mentality and respond to it.

I know that from a product standpoint, I am comparing apples to oranges here, but think about what the tobacco industry went through. As an agricultural product, tobacco is still extremely important in many states. But decades of bad publicity (even though there was a well-funded, strong pro-tobacco and smokers rights lobby) led to a long-term public relations nightmare. The animal ag industry can learn from this and take moves to get ahead of the curve here. Or they can simply hide the debate, or condemn the messenger or even develop markets in the third world like the tobacco companies have done.

So if the anti-animal ag organizations keep pounding the drum against animal ag, that will have a negative long-term cumulative effect. Rather than condemn them, keep putting out a positive message and respond to what that mom out there thinks is right. And remember - that mom is not from South Dakota or Montana or Iowa. She is from California, New York and Florida. And she thinks way differently than we do out here on the plains.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

First of all, they are GESTATION crates, not FARROWING crates where the pigs are born. I don't think there will be a statistical difference in the numbers of pigs per litter. Yes, there will be some pecking order concerns--open wounds on hogs tend to invite Strep and Staph infections.

Secondly, how much pork does McD's actually use. I can think of only one, seasonal sandwich, the McRib, at least in the US.

Lastly, if we look past all the media hype (which is exactly what HSUS was counting on), it would appear to me that McD's is simply pacifiying a thorn in their side.

High on the Midwest (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2012

McDonald's has to use a lot of pork sausage in its sausage and biscuit, pancake combo and breakfast burrito offerings. Actually, the breakfast burrito is one of my favorites when I have to stop there.

on Feb 22, 2012

My son told me about some interesting confinement studies he came upon while he interned on swine units at Murphy Brown and or Tyson that countered the sow crate confinement legislation that has been gaining steam. Apparently they made a lounging area for sows (for comfort) and they had magnetic or some kind of latches on their crates so the sows could come and go as they please. They put it under video surveillance and kept track of time spent in the crates and lounging area etc. Well as you can imagine the sows spent nearly all their time in the crates and one sow (he said they called her "the B" lol) was the only sow in the lounging area. He said when she went to her crate to eat click click click click (sound of crates opening) ----------- all the sows went to the lounging area and as soon as "the B" was finished eating click click click------------all the sows went back to their crates, Of course if they removed "the B" another would take her place. Not sure of the source on this study.

Dee (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2012

That is very interesting! You know, animals are much smarter than we give them credit, those sows used their
accomodations to deal with "the B" in the group! Somehow
this society has taken the respect away from raising food
to feed the hungry! When you work with animals on a daily basis, you soon learn they all have their own personalities and temperaments and care takers learn how to best manage their care to the utmost efficiency. Farmers & Ranchers dedicate their lives to caring for these animals,
protecting them from harm and sickness. Farrowing crates
make it safer for the baby pigs and the mother, as well as
the care takers! Have you ever been chased by a sow
with pigs in an open area? There is no greater "kill" instinct than a sow protecting her babies! You just can't
realistically object to them without hands-on knowledge.

nkarpis (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

depending on how asow lies down shecan kill several babies i have had sows plop down and suffocate their young can mcdonald afford a 30 to 50 percent loss on their sales nick

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

Hello, the breakfast menu is nearly all pork products. McDonald's menu contains a lot more pork than just the McRib.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

Most sows like gestation stalls because there is no fighting. Farrowing stalls are great for hogs also. Without crates some sows will eat their pigs if given the chance. Pigs will often be crushed if the sows can get around in their pens. I raised pigs for 20 years and tried to get away from crates but it was often a disaster. Pigs are happier if they are not crushed and the sows are happier if they are not listening to screaming piglets.

John Ragan (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

I won't speculate on McDonald's motivation, but the reality is that they are a major customer, and their views have to be considered.

Thanks for your continuing contribution to positive communication about the cattle industry, and food animals in general.

Jim (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

I'' use a comment made by Rick Santorum, people cannot expect to have quality of life when they elevate the earth and it's animals over mankind. Countries that spend extra money to protect and secure a utopian environment for animals run the risk of lowering the economic well-being of human inhabitants. My Bible states quite clearly that God gave us dominion over the animals while charging us to be good stewards. With no real harm done to sows in a gestation crate, the fact that they are not 'free roaming' doesn't bother me in the least and the over-zealous, over-the-top animal welfare people better decide whether they want free roaming hogs or pay $10/lb for pork chops.

Spencer Roberts III (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

If the customer ( Mcdonalds) wants pork that is not raised in crates then suppliers have to respect that view if they want to continue to sell into the fast food chain market. However Mcdonalds need to be prepared to pay the expense that is inncurred to change production technique and the costs that may be born in reduced efficiency .

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

Maybe they should just do without for a couple months and see how they feel about it then!
Maybe we should pass another law and let our legislaters waste a couple months arguing and blaming each other and then have us all get permits and liscences and the government could hire a couple thousand inspecters to police all of us.

When is enough - enough

from a cattle & pork producer of 35 years


Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

Pork producers should be allowed to use crates. If they were not needed for efficient production practices, why would producers spend extra time and money on crates.

Dieter Harle (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2012

This is good discussion again! Farmers should be the ones deciding what is best for the animals and the most humane. I have seen all the above systems in various ways work. Ask the question - and please show and verify the data - why does a sow raise today well over 25 piglets per year in two PLUS litters? The system must be working - leave it alone! Only 30 years ago it was tough to get over 15 piglets per year...for an average....)
Even McDonalds should be marketing wise smart enough to simply stay out of discussions that will divide. Whoever "feeds" them this misinformation is not eating at McDonalds anyway.... I for one (and my family) eat beef and pork as we see it fit within a balanced diet NOT who is a "sponsor" of "labeled" misinformation.
So my vote is: It's none of their business how we produce wholesome, economical and tasty food! Consumers should however also ask more questions before taking sides. Just like we farmers must listen and demonstrate leadership in proper information distribution. Let's be more proactive!

Roger Braten (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2012

I remember a few years ago, I was required to sign a form at the local stockyard. I was verifying to McDonald"s that I didn't feed animal by-products to my cattle. What did McDonald's do? They turned around and bought imported meat which wasn't verified anything. They are not concerned about the pigs, they are trying to get someone off their back. They are only concerned about their bottom line and know nothing of the production side of the food they serve. Have their CEO spend six months each at different types of hog operations before commenting on how things are done. Let not me criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.

Jim (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2012

Should we look through to the real question that includes other facets of our lives? A small business (farmers) should be allowed to operate as efficiently and profitably as he can without government mandates or interference from large customer entities. They are meeting a demand and are breaking no laws, NOR are they hurting any animals in the process. Crates for gestation and farrowing both are there for efficient production, making sure each sow gets her share of feed, protecting new born piglets, discouraging fighting and allowing better management. Just like row-crop farmers, livestock producers are the best stewards of their stock because their livlihood depend on it.

Next thing you know, the children's lunch police (two instances in North Carolina) will be searching and confiscating kid's brown bags because they contain a pork product! Get government and special-interest extremists out of farming/business!!!!!

Joe Barker (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2012

There is nothing wrong with the use of gestation crates in my opinion. Seems foolish to not use them this is either going to cost Mcdonalds alot of money or the farmer. And drive their pork prices up for their company.

on Feb 26, 2012

I'm neutral on McDonalds stance

Being from the Rocky Mountain West I consider agriculture as a total package including production of meat, grain, foodstuff, timber, wildlife management, including hunting ….. just about anything concerning production from the land.

What we as producers need to realize is:
It's not about animal friendly production practices.

Extreme ideology groups such as HSUS, FOA, and ALF just to name a few, have but one goal in life. Putting American animal agriculture out of business altogether.

The extreme groups model is pretty effective to accomplish this mission. HSUS walks into the CEO of McDonald's office and threatens bad press about how the meat McDonalds buys is raised thus blackmailing the company into demanding it's meat producers meet a politically and ideologically enhanced more stringent method of production.
Knowing bad press will affect their bottom line McDonalds has to submit to the blackmail, thus increasing production cost on the producer end to the point of a red bottom line and eventual extinction. Mission accomplished.

Extreme ideologist are American agricultures worst enemies. They use the courts, political clout, and the media to achieve their end without the least concern for anything but their misguided ideals.

Personally: I don't think most Americans have a clue how hard we're scrambling to keep their belly full.
My old man said many times before he died: "Some people are just going to have to get real hungry before they understand."

Kentucky (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2012

I believe this is another tactic by HSUS to influence the animal industry. They have publicly stated they intend to force animal ag. out of business. I do believe we as farmers and ranchers need to use best management practices to raise a quality product, that is publicly acceptable.
If McDonald's wants to pay a premium for the livestock they buy and dictate the guidelines of how they are produced it is within their right to do so, just don't take it to the general industry.
I am sure McDonald's would not change their production technique that would be 50% less productive and yet they are asking their producers to cut production and endure the cost burden for the change. A major change like this has to show in the bottom line for someone and the ag industry cannot withstand the added cost without compensation.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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