Most of the meat, dairy and egg products that we find in grocery stores and restaurants originate from factory farms that minimize costs by specializing in cruel, inhumane intensive-confinement (also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs). However, recent commitments by major restaurant chains, grocery stores and other businesses reflect a shift in consumer attitude towards factory farms.
While some companies have announced plans for sweeping changes, others have yet to make progress, presenting a threat to shareholders and their public image.
As a consumer, your dollar means everything to these companies. You can help end factory farming cruelty by supporting brands that adhere to humane guidelines for raising and slaughtering their animals, reading the label and trying some alternatives to factory farm meats.
Brands to Support
Since 2001, Chipotle has sourced 100 percent of its pork from gestation-crate-free producers as part of the company’s “Food With Integrity” campaign.
Major organic and natural foods grocery chain Whole Foods, rolled out a new animal welfare rating program. Under the program, every store will have signs that “tell customers exactly how animals were raised.”
In its rating system, developed by the Global Animal Partnership, the highest rating (5+, colored green) would go to a chicken that, among other things, had been bred, hatched and raised on a single farm, lived year-round on pasture covered with at least 75 percent vegetation and had legs that were healthy enough to support it by the time it reached market weight. The lowest rating (1, colored yellow) would reflect adherence to several dozen baseline provisions about feed, antibiotics and treatment, but also a provision that the animal must not have been caged or crowded.
Wolfgang Puck Restaurants
Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck’s made the decision to “use products only from animals raised under strict humane standards” in all his restaurants. This means no more factory farmed chicken or beef, and no more foie gras.
Brands to Avoid
Multiple investigations have uncovered rampant, unchecked animal abuse at Tyson Foods Inc. In addition to the use of gestation crates, undercover investigations at Tyson supplier factory farms have spurred anti-whistleblower legislation. One investigation documented “[workers kicking] piglets like soccer balls, whipped them around by their hind legs, smashed them into concrete floors, and threw them high into the air.”
Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s largest pork producer, said they would stop using gestation crates at company-owned farms by 2017. However, the company has been pledging to end the use of gestation crates since 2007. Numerous undercover investigations reveal systematic abuses at Smithfield-owned factory farms including the use of gestation crates so small the pigs could barely move their entire lives. Other documented observations include:
- Pigs who had been shot in the forehead with a captive bolt gun and thrown in the dumpster still alive and breathing.
- Employees mishandling piglets and tossed them into carts.
- Some piglets prematurely born in gestation crates fell through the slats into the manure pits.
ConAgra, owners of the Butterball brand and supplied by Tyson Foods Inc. have not made advancements toward humane treatment of its animals. “Hens used for ConAgra’s products are crammed into cages so small, they’re virtually immobilized for their entire lives,” stated Josh Balk, outreach director for The HSUS’ factory farming campaign at a 2010 shareholder meeting at ConAgra.
Undercover investigations at Pilgram’s Pride factory farms and slaughterhouses reveal workers violently throwing and stomping on chickens to kill them. Pilgram’s Pride is a major supplier for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Despite complaints filed to KFC, Pilgram’s Pride and the USDA, no official action has been taken by the company to curb the rampant abuse.
Domino’s Pizza shareholders rejected in 2012 a request by the Humane Society of the United States to end the use of pork from suppliers who confine pregnant pigs in crates.
Brands with Plans to Improve
McDonald’s became the first major fast food company to create a definite timetable to eliminate gestation crate confinement of breeding pigs from its pork supply chain. Following this announcement, other major brands followed suit with similar pledges.
In April 2012, fast-food giant Burger King announced that all its eggs and pork will come from cage-free chickens and pigs by 2017.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., announced on June 14, 2012 that it will begin formulating plans that provide for a pork supply system within Cracker Barrel that is free of gestation crates, cages used to confine breeding pigs, which have been criticized in recent years due to animal welfare concerns.
Cargill Inc. says it has already widely adopted group housing for pregnant sows. Cargill is already 50 percent crate-free.
Compass Group, the largest food service company in the world, operating 10,000 dining facilities in the U.S., has announced that it will eliminate gestation crates from its supply chain by 2017.
Sonic Corp. announced plans to phase in a pork supply chain free of gestation crates by 2017.
Wendy’s is working with its U.S. and Canadian pork suppliers to eliminate the use of sow gestation stalls over time.
Safeway, Inc. announced in May, 2012 that it will begin formulating plans to have a gestation stall-free supply chain.
Hellmann’s, owned by food manufacturing giant Unilever announced in May, 2010 that it aspires to change all its ‘Real Food’ mayonnaise recipes, including Real, Canola Cholesterol Free, Olive Oil, and Low Fat Mayonnaise Dressings, to cage-free eggs once a certifiable and consistent supply become available in North America, and is working closely with suppliers to achieve this goal.
Krispy Kreme announced in June 2011 that it will transition to sourcing cage-free eggs.
Sara Lee joined the national movement away from using eggs from caged hens by announcing a new cage-free egg purchasing program in 2010. The company has committed that more than one million of the eggs it uses each year will not come from hens crammed into battery cages, which provide each bird less space than a single sheet of paper on which to spend her entire life.
Kraft Foods announced it would buy 1 million cage-free eggs in 2010. However, since the time of this announcement there have been no official follow ups or pledges to continue using cage-free eggs.