On Wednesday Dunkin’ Donuts, the New England-based donut chain that by some accounts is the second largest coffee retailer in the U.S. after Starbucks, announced it will slowly revamp its supply chain to source more humane eggs and pork. By the end of next year five percent of the company’s eggs will be cage-free and the company will require its pork suppliers to outline their plans to eliminate gestation crates.
The transition follows other companies including Krispy Kreme and Barilla that have pledged to purchase only cage-free eggs. And for those who crave those breakfast sandwiches but not pork traced to those cruel gestation crates, Dunkin’ Donuts’ announcement is a positive step. Gestation crates, notoriously cruel to the sows that are stuck in them, have become the rallying cry for animal rights advocates and a leading corporate social responsibliity (CSR) tenet for the food industry. Suppliers such as Aramark and Sysco have pledged to eliminate the practice, while fast food companies including Wienerschnitzel and Burger King have also promised to revamp how they source pork-based products.
So how does Dunkin’ Donuts pledge play out?
“Dunkin’s announcement is welcomed news and is further indication that the pork industry can no longer defend the abusive confinement of mother pigs in gestation crates.”
– Josh Balk of The Humane Society
Animal welfare advocates may at first find Dunkin Donuts’ pledge about as substantive as one of the company’s glazed donuts. But in a telephone conversation I had last night with Josh Balk, The Humane Society’s Director of Corporate Policy, he reminded me that it is important to put the company’s pledge into perspective. First, the five percent cage-free eggs pledge makes the company’s commitment larger than other fast food or “quick service” restaurant company other than Burger King. Furthermore, the “phase-in” of the gestation crate policy is not a cop-out, but is the harsh reality when modifying an entire production system. “We wished it happened yesterday,” said Balk, “but the phase-in’s allow for a sustainable transition that will have a lasting impact on the pork industry.” Those gestation crates are not only cruel, they are heavy; imagine the changes a producer would have to implement in order to remove thousands of them and then redesign their production facilities.
Companies including Dunkin Donuts understand that consumers are demanding products that minimize cruelty to animals. But as Balk explained, when food companies approach pork suppliers about switching away from gestation crates, the response is often criticism. The pork industry’s reaction is analogous to an electronics company telling retailers to go back to vacuum tube televisions or for a cell phone manufacturer to demand that a wireless carrier buy only phones that function on landlines.
So considering the pork industry’s recalcitrance, Dunkin Donut’s announcement is a huge step forward for the food industry and less cruelty to animals. “The entire food industry is coming out in unity to tackle this issue,” said Balk, and while they battle each other for business against each other and can be ruthless, the treatment of pigs is so out there with its extreme abuse that pork producers have to move away from this practice.”
For The Humane Society, Dunkin Donuts’ announcement justifies seven years of hard work and has resulted in an impressive timeline of farm animal protection. While balancing consumer demands for quality products and a quality of life for animals, its employees have succeeded in passing laws in nine states banning gestation crates with more pending in other state legislatures. And the DC-based group’s work is another example of how non-profits can work with, not against, business.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Image courtesy The Humane Society.