|In 2001 McDonalds has ordered American chicken farmers to
give their laying hens more space and better food. Should
we applaud this, or could we have expected more?
The American laying hens now have a space of half an A4
sheet of paper (46 in²). McDonalds wants to see that
space increased to three-quarters of an A4. With 70 in²
this would correspond with the space that laying hens
have in Holland now. Scientists and animal welfare groups
think that even the space of 1 A4 is not enough.
In June 1999, the European Union decided that, from the
year 2002, European battery hens should each have a space
of at least 85 in². Battery cages must be banned
in all member states starting from 2012. A European chicken
will then have a space of at least 116 cm² (1 A4).
In short: the current American situation is an outrageous
scandal which maybe in the near future will maybe only
be a "regular" scandal.
many years and in many countries, people who work for
the environment and animal welfare have blamed McDonalds.
Is this the fate of market leaders, or can strong forces
in the market really be blamed for anything?
From within the Animal Freedom organization, we are
trying to legally pressure cattle farmers into changing
for the better. In the case of laying hens, we advocate
to skip useless intermediary stages such as so called
"welfare cages". Our basis is that animals
have a right to freedom and to behave naturally, just
like people. A situation that is acceptable to animals
is a biologically responsible production, aimed at regional
markets. This means, no dragging
live animals over thousands of miles as is done
every year with millions of pigs and sheep from Holland
and the UK towards southern Europe! We wouldn't mind
seeing factory farming, that robs animals of their welfare
so that consumers in faraway countries can get lower
prices, disappear altogether.
an organization wants to build a strong market position
and go worldwide, they often cut back on employee conditions.
In China they even employ child labor for the production
of cheap toys (Dutch Press Bureau 27 August) for McDonalds
to give away with some meals. But the animals that end
up being the products McDonalds so successfully sells
to the public, cannot be expected to protest very much.
And for McDonalds it is not very hard to force their
international suppliers to not only produce better products,
but to make them perfect right away. Of course, it is
economically more tempting not to be a groundbreaker
in this field.
One controversial McDonalds effect is that they increase the
consumption of animal products by asking low prices. This
makes McDonalds more responsible than other restaurants.
The size of their organization makes it possible to buy
cheaply and efficiently. But the threat exists, that other
chain stores will copy this concept and will buy even
more cheaply and less responsibly. So McDonalds is tempting
others into the same or worse animal exploitation. The
urge to expand weakens the resolve to think about animals
and employees even further. McDonalds represents what
many call a scrupulous American "big capitalist".
take it a step further and ask: "should improvements
in animal conditions be implemented step by step, or
can we do it right the first time?"
If companies like McDonalds were to start purchasing
ecological eggs, then this would be an improvement for
the laying hens and for hen farmers. The price of eggs
would then go up, and consequently the number of animals
would go down. Of course, the same applies to the basis
has few problems, but their image is one of them. They
could solve this problem by restyling cattle farming with
ecological management on a more limited and regional scale.
McDonalds can expect to be cheered only after they start
buying regionally, demand biological production from their
suppliers and charges a fair price to the consumers.
is under fire. In 2001 Eric Schlosser published his book
"Fast food nation" in which he outlined a disheartening
picture of affairs in the fast food sector from the inside.
"It's a disconcerting book about cows being fed on
dead pigs and chicken shit, about the displacement of
independent farmers by great agrarian conglomerates, about
employee-risks in slaughter houses, about a lack of hygiene
in the restaurants, about the preference for unschooled
staff, about silenced inspectors and about salmonella
So some kind of counter attack was to be expected.
operates on the international market. They can only
be competitive if they (under the guise of efficiency)
cut back on the social conditions of personnel and the
welfare of animals. They also have to offer a reliable
and fair quality, otherwise their image will suffer.
Their working efficiency has now been taken so far,
that others had no choice but to follow it in order
to stay competitive.
has formed an Animal welfare council made
up of scientists and animal welfare experts,
to develop animal friendly? initiatives. Unfortunately,
the link to further information on the McDonalds
site is currently not active.
They say they will not purchase beef from cattle that
is kept in rain forests, and that they demand that their
suppliers use approved fodder. Chances are, that McDonalds
reasons "if one person chops down a bit of rain forest,
and another then keeps cows there, we cannot be blamed
because we don't purchase meat from cattle that grazed
in the rain forest (anymore)". Even the demand to
use approved fodder is fairly logical in the light of
the BSE-risk, and understandable to prevent any future
claims from Creutzfeldt-Jakob patients.
McDonalds says that they are striving towards durable
agriculture. Whenever such large companies use the word
durability, they mean something other than you and I would
expect. For them, durability means that they want to secure
their market position for the future. They seek publicity,
and with minimum investments they make a maximum effort
to gain a green(er) image.
is also a striking similarity between McDonalds, factory
farming and a cancerous growth. Normally a cell (read:
a company as part of society) is kept in check by its
environment to stay devoted to the interests of the
larger whole. When this supervision slackens because
of sickness in the environment (read: the virus of profit
increase for share holders and management) the cell
turns into a selfish growing monster that wants only
one thing: expansion at the expense of the general interest.
The irony of this parallel is that the growth is fed
by the rest of the organism. The blow-out factory feeds
an all-engorging mass which will eventually even engorge
itself. So a healthy business turns into an organism
that is destined to perish.
McDonalds and factory farming can leave this dead-end
road by acting on their social responsibility
in opting really durable solutions for cattle
farmers. For instance by helping factory
farmers switch to ecological and animal-friendly
management on a more limited and regional
scale. In their social report, McDonalds
claims to acknowledge this and expresses
their intent to follow this path.
||Is this the only way? Yes, this is the
only way. You can take the bucket to the well only until
the bottom falls out. We have reached the bottom in
trying to minimize our efforts in securing animal welfare.
A truly durable existence for McDonalds is only possible
if they regain a headstart in an ecological and transparent
management. This also means that consumers and their
representing organizations have to be given absolute
security that the manufacturing methods of products
are safe and ethically responsible.
Even globalization can go hand in hand with cycles that
are short, durable and local.
Another advantage to McDonalds is that activists will
be less inclined to aim their actions at them, because
McDonalds will no longer undermine the local economy
from abroad. Purchasing necessary ingredients for hamburgers
locally and durably means that companies in the vicinity
of McDonalds restaurants will also benefit from their
Because the technology of making hamburgers has come
so far, that a typical flavor can always be reproduced,
another option would be to replace the meat with another
protein of a non-animal nature. That would constitute
another benefit for the environment and animal welfare.
Finally, McDonalds will be able to keep their prices
down and maintain their competitive position.
More on objections to McDonalds on Mcspotlight.