A long way to go...

Incredible as this is, McDonald's is still one of the worst possible places one could ever go for a meal. 
Just remember that their ''burgers'' never go bad...  

February 13, 2012, 5:18 PM

OMG: McDonald’s Does the Right Thing

Mark Bittman
Mark Bittmanon food and all things related.
There are more than a few improvements McDonald’s could make to better the treatment of its customers and workers, of the animals that provide the meat it sells and of the environment. On Monday, after years of internal and external pressure, the company announced a laudable course of action regarding the sows (female pigs) in their supply chain: McDonald’s is requiring, by May, that its suppliers of pork  provide plans for phasing out gestation crates. Once those plans are delivered, says Bob Langert, the company’s vice president of sustainability, McDonald’s will create a timetable to end the use of gestation crates in its supply chain. “Considering that 90 percent [of the pregnant sows] in the United States are in gestation stalls, this is a huge issue,” he says, and he’s right.
This is important for the animals and for the entire meat-selling industry. Let’s start with the sows: a gestation crate is an individual metal stall so small that the sow cannot turn around; most sows spend not only their pregnancies in crates, but most of their lives. For humans, this would qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment,” and even if you believe that pigs are somehow “inferior,” it’s hard to rationalize gestation crates once you see what they look like. (For the record, defenders of the system suggest that crates prevent sows from fighting in group pens. There’s no space to argue that here, but it’s nonsense.)
The effect on the industry will be huge, because in the world of big-time meat supply, there are two kinds of producers: those who sell to McDonald’s and those wish they could. When, in 1999, McDonald’s requested that its suppliers give caged hens 72 square inches of space instead of 48 (72 is still smaller than a piece of 8×10 paper), not a single factory-farmed hen in the country was being raised with 72 inches of space. Yet the entire supply chain was converted in just 18 months, and 72 square inches is now effectively the industry standard.

Switching from gestation crates to group sow housing is more labor- and capital-intensive, requiring changes that will take money and time, so an 18-month turnaround is unrealistic. But it’s likely that within a few years gestation crates will be history for most pork producers, and that’s a major victory.
The struggle against gestation crates in this country is a recent one. In 2002 the Humane Society of the United States worked to enact a ban in Florida, and since then has achieved the same in seven additional states. (Legislation is pending in eight more.) In the meantime, Whole Foods and Chipotle have banned the use of gestation crates in their supply chains. But this move by McDonald’s — the fourth-largest employer in the world, and one of the biggest pork buyers in the country — is to date the most significant step in that direction.
Although there are no guarantees embedded in the McDonald’s announcement (“We’ll assess in May,” said Langert), it would be foolish of it to stall once its suppliers’ plans are made clear, just as it would be foolish of the suppliers to delay. Smithfield, a chief supplier of pork to McDonald’s and the biggest producer in the world, has promised on and off for years to phase out gestation crates by 2017.  Its evident lack of commitment has cost it dearly in public relations. Still, it would seem that 2017 will be a logical target date for this change.
The McDonald’s move is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, which has done as much for animal welfare as any group. Paul Shapiro, a Humane Society spokesman, said, “We’ve been talking about this with McDonald’s for years, and to see them sending this type of a signal to the pork industry will really help move the issue forward. There is now no future in gestation crates in the United States.”
There is no real downside here: the McDonald’s move may not be bold, but it’s the right one; its timetable may not be swift but it’s probably  the best that anyone could expect. Yes, sows will still be raised in what can only be called industrial conditions and no, the numbers of animals killed for meat will not decrease. But we can expect that this is not simply a P.R. ploy, and that the results will be positive.
Nevertheless, it should not let McDonald’s off the hook for more than a moment. Langert calls the company “a sustainability leader” and it’s in everyone’s interest to hold him to that phrase. When, in December, I visited some company executives — including Langert — at the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., I questioned them not only about gestation crates but on the other issues I believe to be important: the treatment of egg-laying hens and chickens; the quality and variety of their food offerings in general; their relationship to the labor force. Most of their answers were less than straightforward, along the lines of “we’re studying that,” or “we give our customers what they want.”
McDonald’s is among the most important food companies in the world, and one could argue that it and Walmart are the true pace-setters: what they do, others will do. When McDonald’s bans gestation crates, gestation crates will go bye-bye. If McDonald’s were to have a hit with a spot-on non-meat offering, you’d see something similar, lickety-split, at Burger King. If McDonald’s announced it was using organic milk for its coffee (as it does in Britain) or cage-free eggs for McMuffins (also a British practice), you’d see that happening everywhere. If McDonald’s were to pay its workers a dollar more than minimum wage, minimum wage in the restaurant industry would effectively go up.
When McDonald’s does the right thing, it’s a game-changer. Let’s pat them on the back today for doing just that: the right thing. But let’s keep reminding them that there’s a long way to go.

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