18 June 2012

Six million pregnant females locked away into tiny crates

One of the largest corporations on the planet has announced that it will finally end the practice of stuffing pregnant females into tiny cages and breeding them.

"McDonald's believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future," said the fast food chain in a press release. "There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows."

When will those alternatives be implemented?

"The goal of McDonald's ten-year plan, which was developed with input from its suppliers, pork producers, and animal welfare experts, is to source all pork for its U.S. business from producers that do not house pregnant sows in gestation stalls by the end of 2022. As an interim step, by 2017, McDonald's will seek to source pork for its U.S. business only from producers who share its commitment to phase out gestation stalls. To achieve this, McDonald's will work with producers and suppliers to develop needed traceability systems that will verify pork sourced from non-gestation stall supply chains and assess how to best support producers migrating away from gestation stalls."

Essentially, this means that McDonalds will continue to allow the use of gestation crates for a whole decade.

Roughly seven feet long, two feet wide, gestation crates are truly horrifying contraptions. Pregnant pigs will spend the majority of their existence locked inside, unable to turn, forced to urinate and defecate where they stand. Animal scientist Temple Grandin likens tenure in a gestation crate to a life-long sentence in an airplane seat, explaining how "you could maybe turn over on your side, and there's someone bringing you food and water and everything you need, but you can't move."

If a corporation were to be found directly responsible for treating pregnant women this way, would their announcement to end such a practice in ten years be considered acceptable? There are obviously differences between a pregnant woman and a pregnant pig, but in terms of psychological suffering, it's really all the same.

"Pigs are sentient beings who are capable of suffering incredible pain," writes Marc Berkoff, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, over at the Huffington Post. "They not only suffer their own pain, they also see, smell, and hear the pain of others."

As I've discussed previously, pigs are also very similar to dogs. Yet for many people, the idea of treating canines in such a way is so offensive that it has been made illegal, punishable in some places with so much as a prison sentence. Pigs, on the other hand, are regularly abused, often without justice.

Regardless, for McDonalds, there appears to be no rush in giving these animals a better standard of living. Their reasoning for the delay is that such time allows them to research and identify housing alternatives and ensure proper training of employees.

This is, of course, a good thing that McDonalds has chosen to do. Small steps forward for animal welfare ought to be thoroughly commended, wherever they are.

Still, ten years? Over 3,000 days? Is this really the best that McDonalds -- a multi-billion dollar corporation with untold amounts of resources -- is capable of? It took them less than a year to get "pink slime" out of their burgers; does it really take ten years to get tortured pigs out of their pork?

Obviously, such changes can't be implemented overnight, but it seems subjecting six million mothers to another decade's worth of utterly needless suffering -- suffering they have endured since 1990 -- isn't exactly the fairest of choices. For them, ten years is very, very far away. Why should they have to wait that long for something that should have happened yesterday?

Jonathan Reynolds | Blog
Jonathan is a freelance writer and blogger residing in upstate New York.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/mariya_umama_wethemba_monastery