Friday, May 29, 2009

Get Cracking, McDonalds

I will only eat eggs from free-range, organically-fed chickens. The photo below shows what I think is the idyllic setting for raising poultry. There is a totally different taste to eggs from free-range, organically-fed hens. The yolks are a brilliant golden in colour coming from the variety in the chickens’ diet – grass, insects, worms, and seeds that are full of nothing but natural goodness.

Photo courtesy UBC Chicken Feed Project.

However, the taste of the end product (pun, intended!) is a very small concern when you consider the unnatural, unhappy, life of the battery hen. These poor birds are condemned to a shortened life in a barn with no fresh air, tiny cages, drugged-up food, no mental stimulation, no way to indulge in any natural behaviours and an artificial night/day environment.

Fortunately, battery operations seem to be losing ground in the court of public opinion.

Photo courtesy Public Record Office Victoria.

Lately, McDonald’s has been accused of being slow to act in fulfilling its promise to use 100% cage-free birds in supplying the 3 billion eggs used annually by 2010.

While the Chicago-based burger empire is taking part in a trial of alternatives to the battery cages that are used at farms across the US, it would appear that public opinion plays a major role in some of their decision making.

Some animal rights activists are accusing McDonald’s of engaging in unnecessary research to delay the change to switching to free-range hens. They point out that in Britain, where animal rights are a prominent public concern; almost all of the chain’s eggs come from free-range chickens.

McDonald’s might even been seen as trying to get out of their commitment to be cage-free by 2010 when one listens to Bob Langart, McDonald’s head of corporate social responsibility. He says: "Our experience and the evidence suggests that there's room for both, and that there are pros and cons to both."

He went on to state that there was a "lack of objective information and science" over the benefits of abandoning cages. He said free-range farms had disadvantages, including "issues with aggressive behaviour, issues with increased mortality rates and issues with cleanliness".

Part of McDonald’s success has been its unwavering uniformity of product no matter where on the planet you purchase it; so, this differing international approach to animal welfare is a rare area of variation.

Steve Easterbrook, the chain’s UK chief executive has taken every opportunity to emphasize his country’s operation's progressive policies citing the UK’s use of free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee and organic milk.

He told a conference last year that McDonald's wanted to stay ahead of the national debate on animal rights: "Animal welfare across the next couple of years will become a mass topic of discussion in the general public."

The Humane Society of the United States said the US chain lags behind competitors such as Burger King, Quiznos, Denny's and Hardee's – all of which use cage-free eggs.

However, despite everything, eggs laid by tens of thousands of birds in the study will begin appearing in Egg McMuffins and other breakfast offerings by 2011 at the company's 14,000 US restaurants. The study will be exploring free-range chickens or enlarged cages with perches and nests.

A McDonald's restaurant on 42nd Street in Times Square, New York. Photograph Reuters.

Still not my idyllic picture of where my egg should come from. Let McDonald’s know how you feel about their hesitancy to change from using battery hens.

1. Go to the USA headquarter's website and use their "contact us" feature to send an email protesting the use of caged hens and urging them to use eggs from free-range chickens only.

2. Write a letter to your local McDonald's expressing your concern. Point out that the UK McDonalds use 95% free-range hens.

3. Ask your friends who eat at McDonald's if they realize the eggs they are eating are from battery hens. I bet most of them have never thought about it.

4. Have a blog or website? Do a short article on this and inform your readers of what's happening.

5. Let McDonald's know you will take your breakfast business (if not all your business) to an establishment that uses free-range eggs.

6. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper and send a copy to McDonald's.

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