Yesterday Burger King announced that its restaurants would transition to cage-free pork and eggs by 2017. The move comes as Burger King struggles to cope with declining same store sales and its loss of the #2 fast food U.S. sales ranking to Wendy’s. But if you think times are tough for BK executives or franchise owners, animal welfare activists will remind you that chickens and pigs have long faced harsher conditions in the quest to make Burger King’s breakfast sandwiches. Sows on hog farms are usually penned into “gestational crates,” during pregnancy and therefore confined in spaces only as wide as them.
The announcement came as more fast food companies are pledging to source ingredients from more ethical and humane suppliers. Chipotle’s success, heightened by a very popular commercial aired during the Grammy Awards earlier this year, has had a role in nudging more fast food chains like Krispy Kreme and Wendy’s to source cage free eggs or stop sourcing pork from suppliers that use gestation crates. Meanwhile other companies, like McDonald’s, have fought the cage-free trend tooth and nail, though the Golden Arches has promised to phase out gestational crates.
The pledge to source “cage-free” pork has struck some observers as odd considering pigs on industrial farms are not kept in contraptions built for birds. But semantics and public relations spin aside, fast food companies are waking up to that fact that customers are becoming more concerned not only about food quality and safety, but how animals are treated before they end up in a a value meal. And as food analyst Phil Lempert said in an Associated Press interview, they will pay a little more for it. The usual excuse given by companies that reducing animals’ misery will only add to increased business costs is no longer valid–companies will have to absorb those costs or find a way to pass them on to customers who are more willing to pay that premium anyway.
With Burger King’s announcement, look for other companies to scramble to find ways to show that their food is humanely sourced. BK has already slowly increased the percentage of cage free eggs and free range pork at its restaurants, a policy the company first implemented in 2007. So while 2017 seems a long way off, that deadline gives the company’s supply chain time to sort out the details, learn to account for added costs and share best practices with other companies.
With animal welfare among trends including the elimination of pink slime from menus and the awareness over the sourcing of palm oil from dubious suppliers, could fast food really become less guilt-free? Furthermore, could those hamburgers, breakfast sandwiches and fries once again actually taste the way the way they meant to and how our parents and grandparents remembered them?
Photo courtesy Wikipedia (Specious).