For decades, the Humane Society of the United States has led the charge against the cruel confinement of animals on factory farms. It’s a big fight, one of the biggest, and it involves hundreds of millions of animals locked in cramped spaces all across this country, from egg-laying hens locked in cages to veal calves. Mother pigs are locked in crates so small, they are unable to turn around or take a step in any direction. It’s not uncommon to find these crates bloodied as pigs desperately chew on the metal bars that are inches from their faces, day in and day out.
There has been tremendous movement away from these practices already. Our public awareness campaigns have educated and engaged millions of consumers. Our legislative campaigns have produced groundbreaking laws to prohibit intensive confinement practices in our states. We’ve also worked with hundreds of food companies to support their establishment of policies to eliminate this systematic cruelty at immense scale from their supply chains. And that includes the world’s largest fast-food chain, McDonald’s.
Ten years ago, in February 2012, McDonald’s and the HSUS jointly announced the company’s commitment to end this cruelty and chart a better and more responsible course with a press release about ending gestation crates in its pork supply. In May that same year, the company issued a second press release stating that it would end these crates for pregnant sows by 2022—this year.
In both releases, the company’s language was crystal clear: No gestation crates for pregnant pigs.
In 2017, McDonald’s reached out to the HSUS to let us know that it was only buying pork from suppliers who shared that goal. That sounded great, but given that there were no major pork suppliers who’d pledged to end gestation crates, we were puzzled as to how it could be true. So we pressed McDonald’s for details. And that’s when it became clear to us that McDonald’s was not actually “ending” gestation crates for pregnant pigs, as it had publicly declared, but merely reducing their use.
Here’s how it works: A pig’s pregnancy lasts 16 weeks. Rather than getting pigs out of crates for that entire time, McDonald’s decided to let its suppliers continue to lock pigs in gestation crates for the first four to six weeks and only then move them into group housing. That amounts to a reduction of gestation crate confinement—but certainly not the end of it. And because pigs in these settings endure several pregnancies a year, McDonald’s approach means they still spend much of their lives locked up.
From 2017 to 2020, we privately challenged McDonald’s on this, but the company refused to budge. We eventually made its remarkable double-speak public in our 2020 Food Industry Scorecard (McDonald’s earned an “F” grade), but McDonald’s still wouldn’t move. Meanwhile, the company continued issuing misleading statements about its progress—maintaining that it was “phasing out” gestation crates.
At a certain point, we’d seen enough. We decided to elevate our concerns through shareholder advocacy, where we have a lot of experience and a record of success. Since 2005, the HSUS has owned stock in many major companies whose business decisions and practices touch animal welfare concerns, so that we may use our influence as stockholders to bring about change. Through our shareholder advocacy efforts, we’ve gained a number of allies and a lot of goodwill. Most importantly, we’ve moved companies to implement cage-free egg policies, gestation crate-free pork policies, fur-free policies and make other important reforms for animals.
In November 2021, as stockholders of McDonald’s, the HSUS filed a shareholder proposal with the company (which will be voted on at the company’s annual meeting this spring) about its misleading gestation crate claims.
McDonald’s spring meeting promises to be something of a double reckoning on animal welfare. First, there is our shareholder proposal, which points out the inconsistencies between what McDonald’s says it’s doing about gestation crates and the reality for pigs in its supply chain, and which calls for disclosure that would give shareholders the truth.
Second, we expect that there will be two independent candidates for the McDonald’s board, qualified people who we think could help the company straighten course and deliver in earnest on the promises it has made in the past: Maisie Ganzler and Leslie Samuelrich. Ms. Ganzler is a senior executive at Bon Appetit Management Company, a food service company with a stellar track record on animal welfare. Ms. Samuelrich is president of Green Century Capital Management, a socially responsible investment firm that’s taken strong stands in favor of better animal treatment in the food industry. The HSUS will be proud to vote our McDonald’s shares in favor of their candidacies.
It is pretty simple to comprehend what has occurred here: McDonald’s broke its promise to eliminate gestation crates for these mother pigs, who continue to suffer in the company’s supply chain—day after day, week after week. We think it’s time for their misery to end, and we’ll continue pressing McDonald’s to eliminate gestation crates once and for all. We have never shied away from a fight for what’s right for animals and will continue fighting for them in the public arena, in corporate contexts, in state legislatures, in the courts and beyond.