After announcements of McDonald's and Wendy's to phase out sow stalls and cage in pork and egg production, Burger King announced this week that all its eggs and pork will come from cage-free chickens and pigs by 2017.
The decision by the world's second-biggest fast-food restaurant, which uses hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of millions of pounds of pork annually, could have huge repercussions in the egg and pork supply business. Other fast food chains will likely follow suit.
The company, headquartered in Miami, FL, has been increasing its use of cage-free eggs and pork as producers have become better able to meet demand, said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, the company's chief brand and operations officer. He added that the decision is part of the company's social responsibility policy.
"We believe this decision will allow us to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers," he said.
The issue of the treatment of pigs raised for pork has grown big recently. Earlier this year, food chains McDonald's and Wendy's announced that they have asked their pork suppliers to outline plans for eliminating gestation crates they use to confine sows. They did not set a timetable. This year, meatpackers Smithfield and Hormel committed to ending the use of gestation crates by 2017.
"So many tens of thousands of animals will now be in better living conditions," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, which has been pushing Burger King and other corporations to consider animal welfare in purchasing policies. "Numerically this is significant because Burger King is such a big purchaser of these products."
Pacelle added, "Burger King has demonstrated when it comes to America's largest fast food chains, it continues to set the standard. These changes by Burger King will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain."
In 2007 Burger King became the first major fast-food restaurant chain to incorporate animal welfare issues into its purchasing policies when it began sourcing some of its pork and eggs from cage-free suppliers. The hens are still housed in a barn, but they have room to roam and perches and nesting boxes. Already 9% of the company's eggs and 20% of its pork are cage-free.
Burger King has 7,200 restaurants in the USA alone.