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.

For 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.

If 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".

Let's 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 of hamburgers!

McDonalds 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.
McDonalds 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 in hamburgers."
So some kind of counter attack was to be expected.

McDonalds 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.

McDonald's 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.

There 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 presence.
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.