2000: An Historic Year for Hens:

The McDonald's Decision

McDonald’s Tells Farmers to Treat Chickens Better

Marc Kaufman
The Washington Post, August 23, 2000

On Wednesday, August 22nd, "McDonald's Corp. sent letters to the farmers who supply the company with 1.5 billion eggs yearly outlining strict new regulations for raising hens.

The guidelines require 50 percent more space for each caged hen, ban the controversial practice of withholding food and water to increase egg production, and require a gradual phasing out of the ''debeaking'' that is common in the poultry industry.

"The move—the first of its kind by any major U.S. food supplier—was prompted by a combination of factors, including pressure from animal rights activists and growing concern among government and academic scientists that current methods of caring for chickens may increase the risk of diseases. . . . The action is the most far-reaching step in a trend that began in Europe and has recently begun to speak to the United States toward improving living conditions for all farm animals, for both ethical and public health reasons. . . . ." (from The Washington Post)

“McDonald's' action is important because it is the first time that a major U.S. food company has announced that the treatment of farmed animals merits attention in its own right. For the first time, THE ANIMALS THEMSELVES HAVE BEEN DECLARED TO MATTER.”

Significance of the McDonald's Action

United Poultry Concerns welcomes McDonald's' action. The company chose the deplorable treatment of hens by the egg industry as its first farmed animal welfare reform. In its letter to its U.S. egg company suppliers, McDonald's announced: "Effective immediately, it will not support the practice of withdrawing food or water to stimulate molting. . . . Effectively immediately, it will not support the practice of 'beak trimming.'" To ensure compliance, McDonald's told the egg companies it will audit them. McDonald's Animal Welfare Guiding Principles states: "McDonald's is committed to implementing an auditing system with our suppliers that ensures animal welfare compliance."

McDonald's' action is important because it is the first time that a major U.S. food company has announced that the treatment of farmed animals merits attention in its own right. For the first time, the animals themselves have been declared to matter. Until now, if chickens and other farmed animals received attention it was likely to be framed strictly in terms of environmental or human health costs. The animals themselves have been ignored, even blamed, for the environmental and human health problems resulting from how they are treated. Ironically, McDonald's has taken a stronger stand than some sectors of the vegetarian and animal welfare community. Sadly, it was McDonald's rather than the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), that took action on behalf of the morally abandoned and maltreated hens of the U.S. egg industry. Thus far the AVMA, which should have been a leader, has not even joined the parade, but instead has betrayed its oath "to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the promotion of public health, protection of animal health, and the relief of animal suffering." Because of its ties to agribusiness and despite the fact that practicing veterinarians across the country have urged the association to adopt a policy opposing forced molting, the AVMA defends starving and debeaking chickens as well as caging them according to "current use," including confining each hen to 48 square inches—or less—of cage space for life.

By contrast, McDonald's has told its egg suppliers that each hen must now have 72 square inches of space instead of 48. While 72 square inches is not even close to the amount of space that a chicken needs, and while cages are completely unacceptable, McDonald's' space requirement is the first concession by a major U.S. food corporation that a chicken's living space matters and that the egg industry has been cruel here as in its practice of starving birds and mutilating their beaks.

Animal Activist Pressure Produces Results

However McDonald's portrays its progressive action, the fact is that animal rights pressure from European and Australian activists, the McDonald's campaign by PETA in the U.S., and the coordinated actions, campaigns, and behind-the-scenes sharing of research and information by PETA, United Poultry Concerns, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, and Dr. Steven Gross and the Illinois Humane PAC are responsible for the company's new hen welfare standards and for the siege that the egg industry is now under.

UPC members can take pride that the U.S. agribusiness newspaper Feedstuffs did an article about us on August 8th stating that "A recent campaign initiated by the activist group United Poultry Concerns generated more than 5,000 cards, letters and signed petitions to the offices of the United Egg Producers (UEP) in Atlanta, calling for the egg industry to discontinue its practice to force hens to molt. . . . United Poultry Concerns president Dr. Karen Davis said the cards and letters should be considered 'a mandate' to cease forcing hens to molt through feed withdrawal and other means. . . ."

United Egg Producers "reported that, giving mounting pressure to discontinue induced molting, including questions from government agencies, it has received a grant from the American Egg Board to conduct research into molting without feed withdrawal" (p. 8).

United Poultry Concerns, AVAR's Retailer Campaign Causes Industry Consternation

In its Washington Report Newsletter, August 7, 2000, United Egg Producers reported in "Molting Campaign Taken to Retailers": "United Poultry Concerns and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights have taken their distorted campaign to the major retail chains. Their message speaks of the starvation imposed upon the hens as a result of induced molting and how this stress then contributes to a human food safety risk. The same organizations have called upon USDA/FSIS [U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service] to enact laws that would prohibit the industry practice of induced molting."

What Can I Do?

"A vocal minority of animal activists, who are vegetarians, have finally realized that the way to get things done is to put pressure on retail outlets like restaurants and supermarkets." Donald Bell, forced molting architect, University of California Riverside, quoted in The Los Angeles Times, Sept 8, 2000, "Egg Producers Are McMiffed. Industry Balks at McDonald's Tough Rules on Hen Treatment."

  • Please thank McDonald's. Write to: Mr. Jack Greenberg, CEO, McDonald's Corporation, 1 Kroc Drive, Oak Brook, IL 60523-1900.

  • Please write to the CEOs [Corporate Executive Officers] of every restaurant and supermarket you can urging them to follow McDonald's' lead—better yet, surpass it.. Tell them that their decision will influence your decision whether to shop or eat there. Once you draft your letter (keep it to a single page), you can use it repeatedly—only be sure that you send each letter as a freshly signed original, changing the heading and salutation for each company executive you write to. Please send company replies to United Poultry Concerns. Please make copies of the questionnaire: TO THE SUPPLIERS OF EGGS & EGG PRODUCTS and include it with your letter to each CEO. Below are the addresses of several major food corporations and their CEOs. Ask your local supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants for headquarter addresses not listed here. Thank you! Our work is making the difference!

    Joseph Pichler, Chairman, CEO
    The Kroger Company
    1014 Vine Street
    Cincinnati, OH 45202
    Ph: 513-762-4000; fax: 1400
    Dick Baird, President, CEO
    Giant Food Inc.
    Department 601
    6300 Sheriff Road
    Landover, MD 20785
    Odonna Mathews, Vice President, Consumer Affairs
    Giant Food Inc
    Department 597
    6300 Sheriff Road
    Landover, MD 20785
    Ph: 301-341-4365; fax 301-618-4968
    Dennis MaLamatinas, CEO
    Burger King Corporation
    17777 Old Cutler Road
    Miami, FL 33157
    Ph: 305-378-3535; fax 7462
    Bill McCanless, President, CEO
    Food Lion Inc
    PO Box 1330
    Salisbury NC 28145-1330
    Ph: 704-633-8250; fax: 630-9724
    Steven Burd, President, CEO
    Safeway Inc
    5918 Stoneridge Mall Road
    Pleasanton, CA 94588-3229
    Ph: 925-467-3000; fax: 3230
    Charles E. Rawley, President, CEO
    Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation
    Tricon Global Restaurants Inc
    1441 Gardiner Lane
    Louisville, KY 40213
    Ph: 502-874-8300; fax 2690
    Customer Hotline: 1-800-225-5532
    Jack Schuessler, President, CEO
    Wendy's International Inc
    4288 West Dublin-Granville Road
    Dublin, OH 43017
    Ph: 614-764-3100; fax : 3256
    Jeffrey B. Kindler, Chairman, CEO
    Boston Market
    14103 Denver West Parkway
    PO Box 4086
    Golden, CO 80401-4086
    Ph: 303-278-9500; fax 5335
    Customer Service: 1-800-365-7000
    Jon Luther, President
    Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits
    5555 Glenridge Connector, NE
    Suite 300
    Atlanta, GA 30342
    Ph: 404-459-4450; fax 4534
    Customer Hotline: 1-800-337-6739
    John Mackey, CEO
    Whole Foods Market Inc
    601 North Lamar, Suite 300
    Austin, TX 78703
    Ph: 512-477-4455; fax: 1301, 1069
    Gary Michael, Chairman, CEO
    250 Park Center Blvd
    Boise, ID 83706
    Ph: 208-395-6200; fax: 6225
    Mike Gilliland, CEO Wild Oats Markets Inc
    3375 Mitchell Lane
    Boulder, CO 80301
    Ph: 303-440-5220; fax: 928-0022
    Customer Service: 1-800-494-9453 (WILD)