With growing consumer interest in healthier food sources and animal welfare, Miami-headquartered Burger King, the world’s second largest fast-food restaurant chain has announced this week that it plans to use only cage free chicken and pig sources for egg and pork products. The pledge states that this will be fully implemented by 2017. Animal welfare groups that have been pushing for the industry to improve treatment of farm animals have applauded the Burger King decision. “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. Conventional factory farm methods include raising hens in battery cages and also confining pregnant sows to narrow cages. These cramped living conditions foster disease among animals and lead to excessive antibiotic use. These antibiotics in the food chain have been linked to the growth of antibiotic resistant superbugs and reduced effectiveness of antibiotics in humans who have consumed lots of animal foods from conventional sources.
So far this year, McDonalds and Wendy’s said they asked their pork suppliers to outline plans for the elimination of gestation crates, but didn’t set a timetable. Smithfield Farms and Hormel committed to ending the use of crates by 2017. Chipotle attracted attention to farm animal treatment earlier this year with a commercial promoting the restaurant chain’s commitment to healthy food and humane treatment of animals. Wal-Mart and Costco have shifted their private-label eggs to 100 percent cage-free. Unilever is also switching to 100 percent cage-free. Restaurants including Sonic, Subway and Ruby Tuesday, and manufacturers such as Kraft Food and ConAgra Foods, are incorporating some percentage of cage-free eggs in their products.
Although these animals will not be cramped in cages they will still be raised indoors, and Burger King is not committing to support free range organic farming of animals. In the European Union, where animal welfare laws are stronger, McDonalds uses 100% free range eggs. Using more humane farming methods is a positive step, yet those in the USA interested in getting the healthiest sources of animal foods would still be inclined to shun Burger King and other fast food restaurants. Other problems with modern farming methods include the use of unnatural diets for farm animals. This includes feeding meat to herbivorous animals and feeding processed grains to grass-grazing animals. Raising animals in natural, healthy conditions requires letting go of ideas used in mass production and embracing commitment to sustainable agriculture and the health of animals and humans.
Recent documentaries such as Food Matters, Food Inc., and Fresh, have all shown how harmful factory farming is to the environment and human health. Millions are seeing these films and learning about the corruption of the modern food supply. Burger King’s vow to stop using meat and eggs from caged animals is a positive step, but there is still a big divide between commercial food production used by most major restaurant chains and organic food production methods desired by health conscious consumers. Consumers have the power to promote a further shift toward healthy, sustainable agriculture by choosing to shop and dine at businesses which commit to organic, humane food production methods, and choosing to refrain from patronizing businesses that enable unhealthy farming practices to continue.