The European division of McDonald’s has embarked on a pilot program to significantly improve the welfare of its suppliers’ farm animals and produce higher quality products. Seven suppliers (to be increased by six more this summer) provide amenities to their farm animals unheard of in the US. (From the International Herald Tribune, June 20-21, 2009)
A Netherlands dairy farmer provides his 200 cows with water beds to increase their sleep time and blood flow. The animals also get weekly foot baths to reduce lameness. The farmer claims that happier cows live longer and produce more milk. About 95% of eggs used by McDonald’s in Europe are reportedly from non-caged birds, but a British supplier of free-range eggs went even further and planted trees in the fields around his hen houses to encourage them to spend more time outdoors. He believes this leads to better-feathered, healthier birds that lay more eggs. For more information about McDonald’s EU program, click here . Since McDonald’s buys more than 200,000 tons of beef, 150,000 tons of milk and one million tons of potatoes in Europe each year, the chief supply officer of McDonald’s EU asserts that the flagship farms have the potential to change the entire industry and not just their own supply chain.
While McDonald’s EU Flagship Farm is forward-thinking and a significant advance in humane animal welfare, we wanted to see what McDonald’s is doing here in the US. We scoured its website looking for stories about US cows sleeping on water beds and getting foot baths. We found none. The few advancements in animal welfare noted on the website pale in comparison to the European programs. For example, McDonald’s now require US egg producers to use larger cages for their hens, but there is no mention of a cage free requirement as there is in Europe. McDonald’s has formed a USA Animal Welfare Council but the video available about the Council provides only general accolades about how great the Council is and does not refer to a single new policy adopted by the company to improve animal welfare.
Why is McDonald’s EU progressive when McDonald’s US is a laggard? While there may be many reasons for the difference, a significant possibility is the disparity in our laws. US laws demanding humane treatment of farm animals are virtually non-existent whereas European laws are strict . This may be one more example where the US Congress is lagging far behind it international counterparts.