Why billionaire Carl Icahn’s is feuding with McDonald’s over gestation crates
The fast-food giant is facing a challenge from investor Carl Icahn over its use of pork suppliers that confine pregnant pigs in small crates
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn is taking on the world's biggest fast-food chain McDonald's over the treatment of pigs that end up in the US pork supply.
His latest campaign involves pushing McDonald's to require all of its US-based pork suppliers to abandon the practice of using gestation crates – where pregnant sows (female pigs) are placed in small crates and confined to this space, usually of seven feet by two feet size, during the entire period of pregnancy.
We take a look at these gestation crates and how it has led to a battle between the billionaire investor and McDonald:
What are gestation crates?
A gestation crate, also known as a sow stall is a metal enclosure in which a farmed sow used for breeding may be kept during pregnancy. A standard crate measures 6.6 ft x 2.0 ft (2 m x 60 cm).
Since the 1970s, gestation crates have been standard housing in most hog-breeding facilities across the United States. For the nearly four-month duration of her pregnancy, each sow lives, eats, and sleeps in a roughly two-and-half-by-seven-foot stall that does not allow her to walk, turn around, or socialise.
These crates are so small a pig will never get the chance to turn around for their entire lives, let alone see their own tails.
The sad truth is 95 per cent of pork in the United States comes from pigs raised in a factory farm.
The meat industry uses gestation crates to maximise profits at the expense of animals’ physical and mental well-being.
By keeping the pregnant pigs confined in the small crates, industrial farmers can crowd thousands of breeding sows inside a single shed. They don’t need to worry about controlling the amount a sow eats. Also, housing pigs like this requires the bare minimum of personnel needed to manage the animals.
Due to the sheer amount of individual sows in a shed, many pigs face severe forms of neglect and horrific conditions.
They wallow in built-up faeces and filth. They rarely receive care for any of the pain or injuries they suffer from life in the crate. Some are even left to die on the concrete floors of factory farms.
However, this practice has come under fire from the public and animal activists. Seeing the harm and cruelty involved in the use of gestation crates, US states like California and Massachusetts have banned the practice and several companies too are increasingly turning to eliminate the usage of the practice in their supply chains.
In fact, between 2012 and 2015, more than 200 food companies — including meat producers like Cargill and Hormel, food service providers like Aramark and Bon Appétit Management Co, restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s, and retailers like Kroger, Safeway, and Costco — all pledged to do away with gestation-crate pork.
And while most of these companies expect to hit the target by 2022, it’s unclear whether the food industry as a whole will make good on its promises.
What’s the Icahn vs McDonald’s row?
Last week, Carl Icahn, who holds only 200 shares in the company, has pushed McDonald’s for better treatment of pigs.
The billionaire has demanded that McDonald’s require all its US suppliers move to “crate-free” pork. The fast food chain uses pork in its bacon cheeseburgers, breakfast offerings and its McRib sandwich.
"I really do feel emotional about these animals and the unnecessary suffering you put them through," Icahn said in an interview with Bloomberg last week. "A pig has a good brain and it's a feeling animal."
The row worsened after Icahn nominated two new directors to the McDonald’s board. Icahn's nominees are Leslie Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management, devoted to protecting "our water, air and land," and Maisie Ganzler, chief strategy and brand officer at Bon Appétit Management, which calls itself a "food service for a sustainable future."
Speaking on his battle with the fast-food giant, Icahn was quoted as saying that he had pushed the food giant to change their practices 10 years ago. At that moment, the company promised to phase out the suppliers, but it has not yet done so.
McDonald's "did a little something, but never delivered," Icahn said.
In 2012, the company had promised to phase out the practice within a decade. It said on Saturday that it “expects to source 85 per cent to 90 per cent of its US pork volumes from sows not housed in gestation crates during pregnancy.”
McDonald’s hits back
The company, responding to Icahn, issued this statement: "While the company looks forward to promoting further collaboration across the industry on this issue, the current pork supply in the US would make this type of commitment impossible.
"Furthermore, it reflects a departure from the veterinary science used for large-scale production throughout the industry, and would harm the company’s shared pursuit of providing customers with high quality products at accessible prices."
In a statement to The Post, McDonald’s also questioned why Icahn hasn’t made similar demands of Viskase Cos, a company that makes casings for sausages. Icahn is a majority owner of Viskase.
"It's noteworthy that Mr Icahn has not publicly called on Viskase to adopt commitments similar to those of McDonald's 2012 commitment," the company said.
With inputs from agencies
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