May Day, and the big news is the Burger King Corp. announcement that the fast-food chain would switch to sourcing cage-free eggs and pork. The less-considered aspect of the resulting media coverage is that none of this needs to have played out the way it did.
The fast-food chain said it would phase out battery cages for laying hens and gestation crates for sows by 2017, making its pledge among the more comprehensive among a number of similar marketing tactics announced by McDonald’s and Wendy’s.
For example: McDonald’s Corp. stated back in February that the company would begin to require suppliers to begin phasing out gestation stalls, although the timeline was not set in stone.
Wendy’s gives preference to suppliers who have adopted plans to phase out gestation stalls and last year began requiring them to submit schedules for phasing them out—again, though, with no hard deadlines in place.
Reaction to the BK announcement represents something of a litmus test on animal welfare. Animal rights activists, such as the Humane Society of the United States, and their sympathizers within the NGO community rejoiced over what they painted as a victory. Industry organizations, such as the National Pork Producers Council, complained that Burger King—and presumably other foodservice chains that have taken similar steps—were “bullied into companying” with the activist agenda.
Truth is, Burger King’s decision to buy pork from suppliers who plan to phase out gestation crates wasn’t nearly the bold move major media made it out to be, seeing as how key pork industry players such as Cargill, Hormel and Smithfield Farms have already started phase-outs of the stalls.
Worse, the Humane Society of the United States was able to hog the spotlight. In a most distasteful aspect of the news coverage surrounding BK’s announcement, HSUS president Wayne Pacelle took credit for the development, even as his self-serving statement properly put credit where it actually belongs: with consumer demand.
“There was once a time when action on social concerns like animal welfare and sustainability in the food industry was rare,” Pacelle told The Huffington Post. “Now, emerging public consciousness about animals, combined with productive collaboration between The HSUS and corporate leaders like Burger King, is beginning to change that dynamic. Animal welfare is becoming an important element in corporate social responsibility.”