Billionaire investor attacks McDonald's over pig supply chain

21 February 2022

Fast food giant McDonald’s has been criticised by a billionaire activist investor for continuing to allow its suppliers to use gestation crates for pigs.

Carl Icahn, the American financier with an estimated fortune of $17-22bn, claims McDonald’s has failed to meet a commitment it first made in 2012 to ban suppliers’ use of the crates within 10 years. 

The crates are used to enclose pregnant sows in a space not much bigger than their own body for the entirety of their pregnancy.

Producers claim the crates boost productivity and prevent pigs from fighting. But they contain no bedding and, despite being labeled as “cruel” by World Animal Protection, they are extensively used in the US.

Speaking to Bloomberg TV, Icahn said: “We're going to fight it as much as we can, because of the unnecessary suffering they create.”

He added: “You [McDonald’s] gotta live up to your promise, and you got to do this. It’s obscene. You got these companies making all this money and the animals are just suffering for no reason.”

Icahn said he is prepared to launch a proxy fight – to force new members onto the McDonald’s board – if the company doesn’t stop using suppliers who house their pigs in this manner. He added: “We are probably 90% there from putting up a slate. You know, we’re not going to fool around with them anymore.”

In 2012 McDonald’s announced it would only buy pork from farmers and other sources that do not use gestation stalls for housing their pregnant sows, and that by 2017 it would seek to source pork for its US business from producers that are working to phase out gestation stalls.

At the time, the US National Pork Board said the move would place significant economic burden on smaller pig operators who don’t have the capital to overhaul their barns.

McDonald’s claimed a 10-year time window was necessary because at the time it made the announcement only 6-10% of all US pork production came from non-gestation crate suppliers. Bob Langert, then VP of sustainability, said 10 years was needed because current levels of non gestation crate production “can’t supply our needs”.

According to www.eatthis.com, McDonald’s has reportedly asked for a two-year extension so it can meet its original commitment.

Approximately 100m pigs are raised in the US for food each year, according to the Humane Society, and 1% of that pork is bought by McDonald's.

In a 2013 report, the Humane Society of the United States concluded that pigs “are intelligent, social, inquisitive, and capable of learning complex tasks, perceiving time, and anticipating future events”.

McDonald’s has so far not responded to Icahn’s claims.

At the end of January McDonald’s announced its global comparable sales increased by 12.3% in 2021.

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