Burger King has announced that in five years, all of its eggs and pork will come from cage-free chickens and pigs.
Although Burger King would like for consumers to believe the fast-food chain is appealing to rising consumer demand for more humanely produced food, the company’s announcement is clearly an attempt to bolster lagging sales and recapture its position as the world’s second-largest fast-food restaurant.
Wendy’s has unseated Burger King’s number two position and is now the country’s second biggest hamburger chain, with sales of $8.5 billion in 2011, compared with $8.4 billion for Burger King.
Burger King has spent millions on “celeb-centric” ads, featuring celebrities such as Jay Leno, Mary J. Blige and David Beckham, in an attempt to increase sales, which have slumped for several years, dropping 2% globally and 3.3% in North America.
As a result of persistent consumer activism in favor of humanely raised farm animals, this year, Smithfield Farms and Hormel committed to ending the use of gestation crates by 2017.
Since the passage by voters in 2008 of California’s Proposition 2, banning chicken cages and gestation crates by 2015, studies indicate shoppers are willing to pay more for products they believe are produced to higher animal protection standards, forcing buyers and suppliers nationwide to modify their buying policy.
A news report featured on MSNBC notes that since then, “Wal-Mart and Costco have transitioned their private-label eggs to 100 percent cage-free. Unilever, which uses 350 million eggs a year in its Hellmann’s mayonnaise brand, is switching to 100 percent cage-free, and others such as Sonic, Subway, Ruby Tuesday, Kraft Food and ConAgra Foods are incorporating some percentage of cage-free eggs in their products.”
“This is an issue that just four to five months ago was not on the food industry’s radar,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
“Now it’s firmly cemented into the mainstream in a way that I think few people would have imagined.”
As the MSNBC news report points out, conventional eggs come from hens confined in battery cages that give them roughly the same footprint as an 8½ by 11 sheet of paper.
Most pork comes from sows that are confined during their four-month pregnancies in crates so narrow, pigs cannot even turn around in them.
“Egg and pork producers have argued that easing confinement standards for animals raises production costs (1-cent per egg) and makes those who adjust their practices less competitive.”
The United Egg Producers have since teamed up with HSUS in seeking federal legislation that would double the size of the cages in which 90 percent of the nation’s 280 million laying hens are confined.
Note that California’s bill A.B. 1437′s requirement (which succeeded the passage of Prop 2) for “cage free conditions” doesn’t mean “cage free”.
Hens can still be crowded into large areas where each bird has no more than a one or two square feet of space in which to roam.
“Organic”, on the other hand, requires that animals be given access to the outdoors, but “access” is not defined and the interpretation by producers varies.