Cruelty-free farming: Do you choose your pleasure over an animal’s pain?

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In September 2015, McDonald’s International made a pledge to discontinue the use of battery cages in their Canadian and USA supply chains, in a space of 10 years. The franchise’s Western branches have participated in animal wellbeing causes in the past. 

As young South African women, we commend this, since it moves away from thoughtless, cruel consumption and promotes care for Mother Earth’s creatures. Just as we as women want beauty without cruelty, we want to strive to be responsible consumers, who pay careful attention to our food sources. 

Watch: Cage-free egg farming uncovered

To our and other South Africans’ dismay, McDonald’s South Africa has not followed its international counterparts’ egg supply strategy. The consumer sentiment comes as no surprise, as research proves that hens stuffed into battery cages endure immense suffering.

Read more: This is what animal testing looks like in SA

The difference between battery cage and cage-free

A battery cage is a wire container, about the size of an A4 sheet, in which hens hatch one egg after another for humans to feast on. The pitiable creatures have barely any room to do even simple actions such as spread their wings, walk or nest. 

Cage-free hens on the other hand have the freedom to do just that. They lay their eggs in an open barn where they are provided with nest boxes. What adds to their comforts are dust bathing material and perches. This is not only to the benefit of hens, but humans too.

This is because cages produce more fecal dust, are linked to more disease-carrying rodents and insects, and are cumbersome to sterilise. In addition, hens in cages have greater levels of Salmonella than those that are cage free. Given this, if the eggs on your plate are from cage-free hens, you are likely to enjoy a healthier meal.

Petitioning for change in SA’s egg consumption

Of the 7.8 billion eggs generated in the country last year, only 5% are from cage-free hens! After Beauty without Cruelty SA’s unfulfilled request that McDonald’s SA use cage-free eggs, student Yolanda Guse started a petition. The petition, with over 17600 signatories, aims to persuade the restaurant to submit to a cage-free egg policy.

Watch: Yolanda Guse talks to News24

Animal welfare organisation, Compassion in World Farming SA, has partnered with three other such organisations to support her campaign. Local celebrities, including former Miss Earth SA Carla Viktor, media personality Liezel van der Westhuizen and wellness guru Lisa Raleigh, have joined them in backing Guse’s good cause.

In spite of all the hype surrounding the campaign, McDonald’s SA has failed to incorporate cage-free eggs as one of their ingredients. To express their grief at this, consumers have tweaked the eatery’s popular tagline to read “We’re NOT lovin’ it!”. 

Although they have not given in to the pressure from petitioners, McDonald’s SA was not silent on the matter. W24 approached them for comment and they issued the following media statement:

McDonald’s SA’s formal response

McDonald’s SA is committed to providing all our customers with the highest quality food. We source our ingredients from reputable local and international suppliers. We take note of the moves made by our USA and Canadian counterparts to fully transition to cage-free eggs for all restaurants over the next 10 years. 

In the past seven months of the year that we have set aside for investigation, we have been working behind the scenes with suppliers to explore the viability of expanding McDonald’s cage-free policy to South Africa. 

What we can assure our customers is that we source our farm fresh eggs directly from suppliers, who meet McDonald’s stringent quality and food safety standards. Our customers can enjoy our egg offerings at all of our restaurants in South Africa confident that they meet the highest standards of safety.

This statement was also released to the other parties who were less than impressed…

Reaction to McDonald’s SA’s statement

Guse, in addition to other welfare activists, were not appeased by the statement. Guse shared her thoughts: “McDonald’s statement is nothing more than an attempt to delay action against the cruelty in their South African supply chain. I’m truly disappointed by McDonald’s South Africa’s statement.”

Toni Brockhoven, Beauty without Cruelty National Chairperson, responded by pointing out the harms that battery cage hens experience: “Extensive research shows that the hens suffer psychological stress, bone weakness and breakage, feather loss and disease. Standard factory-farm practices include slicing off parts of their beaks without painkillers, and manipulating their laying cycles by starving them.”

Watch: The truth about battery hen farming

If consumers’ calls to action are not answered, animals’ agony will continue and McDonald’s SA is likely to be the target of further criticism. This will be detrimental to the country’s natural environment and commerce.

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