While you may believe those who support PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) represent thinking outside the mainstream, the organization is beginning to have a major impact on your business.

Last year PETA targeted McDonald's with an 11-month "McCruelty To Go" campaign that included demonstrations, billboards and T-shirts. McDonald's Corp. responded with a new set of demands for their suppliers, which seemed sufficient enough that PETA declared a moratorium on its "McCruelty" campaign.

Specifically, McDonald's now demands that chickens raised by their suppliers have a minimum cage space requirement, are not subjected to induced molting practices, and receive "humane" handling and transportation. McDonald's also agreed to explore the feasibility of buying pork from suppliers who raise sows in "less cruel conditions."

Additionally, McDonald's hired Dr. Temple Grandin to implement an animal welfare auditing system for all beef, pork and chicken suppliers. Unannounced audits were introduced last year, and McDonald's claims some suppliers have "lost our business or have had to make corrective changes within 30 days in order to keep our business."

With such success under the Golden Arches, PETA has now focused on 13 of McDonald's competitors. The new targets include Applebee's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway.

PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich said there was an assumption by some in the restaurant industry that after McDonald's agreed to work with PETA to set higher standards for suppliers, others would follow suit. But, he claims, that hasn't happened.

"The rest of the industry is in an uproar over McDonald's agreement," Friedrich told the Kansas City Star. "And it's really quite mind-boggling to me that people in the industry are going to let them be the standard-bearer for animal welfare. What McDonald's has done is not that much. They're refusing to sear the beaks off hens with a hot blade and are auditing their slaughterhouses and refusing to buy from ones that consistently skin and dismember conscious animals."

PETA's newest campaign was a letter to 13 additional restaurant companies asking for copies of their standards for the welfare of animals raised by beef, pork, chicken, egg and dairy product suppliers. PETA also acknowledged it is having discussions with Burger King officials.

PETA's recent actions and the response it has received from McDonald's and other restaurants suggests that animal welfare will continue to play a significant role in determining producer practices in the future. It is no longer enough to produce the world's safest food. American farmers and ranchers must also produce the happiest animals. Of course, these new standards will raise the cost of production for all industries, but these practices may be necessary in order to preserve the market for your animals.