Fast-food chains will probably never get out of the meat market and there is no way to sell meat without cruelty to animals, but Burger King announced that it will be the first major U.S. chain to use free-range chickens and hogs for its eggs and meat. All 7,200 Burger Kings across America will use 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2017. This has been lauded by some animal cruelty groups and dismissed as a cynical half-measure of appeasement by others. Customers have let the company know that they would prefer more humane treatment of the animals used for the Burger King menu.
The term cage-free includes barn-raised, which the SPCA supports, as well as free-range. Burger King also announced that they will only buy pork from “suppliers that can demonstrate documented plans to end their use of gestation crates for breeding pigs.” The move is likely in response to McDonald’s recent announcement that they will stop using inhumane gestational crates for its sows. In the European Union, Burger King already uses only cage-free eggs, but in New Zealand only 12 percent of the 960 million eggs produced for the chain is free-range, although free-range egg sales have been increasing by 1 percent a year for the past ten years.
Burger King is the world’s second-largest fast food chain, so this change may expand the market for humanely produced food as it adds pressure for rivals to do the same. “For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare,” said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer.
The change will lead to price increases over a period of years because free-range eggs typically cost consumers twice as much as eggs from battery hens , hens kept in an industrial agricultural confinement system used primarily for egg-laying hens, due to the extra land and labor they require.
The Humane Society of the United States gave the chain a Corporate Progress Award last year for its work encouraging vendors and suppliers to treat animals properly. “Many tens of thousands of animals will now be in better living conditions,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Burger King is winning praise from animal-rights activists, but eliminating cages doesn’t guarantee cruelty-free conditions. Many cage-free hens are starved or have part of their beaks burned off. Many of these birds are still kept in crowded, dark barns, and never see the light of day. Burger King’s decision doesn’t really go far enough to be a game-changer for the industry. It makes no difference for the livestock the company uses in its meat products which will still be coming from inhumane factory farms.