Let's hear it for McDonald's, which has taken a step towards making the lives of the pigs it feeds to people a bit less brutal. It is requiring its pork suppliers to create plans for phasing out gestation crates, which I described in an earlier blog post:
Gestation crates are small metal cages only two feet wide that prevent pregnant pigs from turning around or even lying down comfortably. Sows spend most of their adult lives in these crates as they are inseminated soon after they give birth and thus kept pregnant over four out of every five months. Gestation crates cripple pregnant pigs and cause obesity. The fumes and toxins produced from the concentration of so many animals in one space sicken them (and the humans who “take care of” them). Pigs are smart, affectionate animals, and the constant confinement, lack of activity or stimulation, and pain lead to neurotic behaviors like biting the bars of their cages over and over, or chewing on nothing.
As the largest restaurant chain in the world, McDonald's has the potential to eliminate gestation crates from the industry by refusing to patronize suppliers that use them. Unfortunately the company has not announced guidelines that factory farms will have to follow in place of gestation crates. Will sows have more space, or will they be crowded together though not in individual pens? Will they be able to socialize with each other? Will their environments allow them to satisfy their instinct to burrow and root around? And what about farrowing crates, where sows are caged and prevented from touching their piglets while they nurse?
The best announcement of all would be that McDonald's and its competitors are going to stop feeding animals to people. But here in reality, let's support the Humane Society of the United States, which worked with McDonald's to create this policy to make farmed pigs' short lives less miserable.