The New York Times's blog Green, Inc. recently exposed McDonald's U.S. board's reaction to a modest proposal suggested by the Humane Society: Switch out a mere 5 percent of their regular eggs to the cage-free variety. (Right now, McDonald's egg-laying hens are restricted in what are called "battery cages," which offer each hen smaller space than a piece of letter-sized paper -- for almost their entire lives.) This would not appear to be a radical suggestion; fast-food joints such as Burger King, Wendy's, Hardee's, and Quiznos all use cage-free eggs. And actually, so does McDonald's -- but only overseas. Its European and UK restaurants use cage-free eggs exclusively, and Australia seems to be moving toward that policy as well.
To add weight to the argument, in a proxy statement that outlines McDonald's board recommendations to its U.S. shareholders, the board concedes that eggs produced in the current McDonald's conditions have a 250% higher likelihood of containing Salmonella. "The Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest have all opposed battery cages and the Pew Commission recommendations were also based on food safety concerns," the statement admits. Furthermore, the legislative trend in the U.S. is moving away from battery cages -- California and Michigan are in the process of phasing them out, and more states are expected to follow.
So, cage-free systems result in happier hens and healthier eggs. And, again, the proposal put before McDonald's shareholders is hardly sweeping; 95 percent of their eggs would still come from battery cages, so the change should be relatively simple to implement. It may seem like an obvious yes, right?
Wrong. In the proxy statement, the board states that they are waiting for data to come in. "As we have examined this issue over the years, we have determined that there is no agreement in the global scientific community about how to balance the advantages and disadvantages of laying hen housing systems," they insist. "Furthermore, there seems to be a significant gap in scientific knowledge related to a wide range of sustainability impacts of laying hen housing-environmental impact, food safety, worker safety, animal health and well-being, and food affordability [emphasis ours]."
Maybe it's hard to argue with the business strategies of a company that continues to grow despite massive negative P.R. Maybe, in light of that, the board's recommendations make perfect sense. Still, this CafeMom blogger is probably not alone in her reaction: "The board fighting against progress is just another example of irresponsible behavior by a leader in the fast food industry, and another reason why I will never take my family to a McDonald's."