There’s something to be said for pressure from consumers, and consumers apparently really do not like cruelty in their fast food. And fast food giants—almost all of them—have, in the last several years, taken steps to assuage their customers’ consciences.
The first, of course, was Chipotle, the fast-casual upstart that has been serving antibiotic-free pork from Niman Ranch since its infancy in 2000. In 2012, Dunkin Donuts announced that it would be phasing out poultry gestation crates (which are seen as cruel by the Humane Society of the United States) from its supply chain, and would serve only cage-free eggs and chicken. From there, Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonald’s also committed to going cage-free for all of their egg and pork products.
And just this month, Panera and Taco Bell joined the fray. Taco Bell’s commitment was notable because of its timeline to move to only cage-free eggs by the end of 2016—the fastest switch of any of the chains. (Many of the others have set 10-year goals to be completely cage-free.) Animal rights activists have cheered Taco Bell’s move, especially given that the parent company of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut—Yum Brands—has been basically silent on critiques of its supply chain.
“This is enormous news,” Leah Garces, the U.S. director of Compassion in World Farming, told the Washington Post. “Especially given the timeline, which will be the fastest yet.”
Though the Bell's decision to go cage-free appears to have been in the works for years (if you believe their marketing department), it certainly signals that fast-food companies can no longer ignore animal cruelty issues within their supply chain. After all, Taco Bell made their announcement after nearly 170,000 Americans signed a Change.org petition this year. Liz Matthews, chief food innovation officer at Taco Bell, told petition signers that around 500,000 hens will benefit each year because of the company’s decision.
The move toward cage-free within the fast-food industry is yet another sign of a more conscientious consumer base demanding more of their food—and more for the animals who bring them their food. In order for the fast-food industry to become completely cruelty-free, however, a radical transformation will need to sweep the food system.
At the moment, there aren’t enough humane livestock and poultry farms in the United States to allow every fast-food chain to serve only cruelty-free meat and eggs. And, as Tove Danovich pointed out in a recent article for Eater, “while eliminating gestation crates and moving to cage-free eggs is certainly progress, it's still progress within the ‘factory farming’ system.” Until the U.S. takes strong steps to ban certain kinds of inhumane treatment of animals—and create a more sustainable agricultural system—commitments from restaurant chains to go cage-free within 10 years will continue to ring a bit hollow.
Photo credit: Maa Hoo via Stocksy