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McDonald's Responds to Critics with Pork-Raising Move

Posted by Dale Buss on February 14, 2012 04:01 PM

McDonald's is taking another step to mollify critics as it agrees to push its pork suppliers to stop confining sows in small pens. These "gestation stalls," as explained above, are "not a sustainable production system," the chain said, and there are alternatives that "are better for the welfare of sows."

The move is the latest by McDonald's to engage some of its many critics, demonstrate concern about issues such as animal welfare where it's deemed possible for the business, and make some changes. Recently, for example, McDonald's decided to stop using ammonium hydroxide in its burgers after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver criticized the use of the filler ingredient as "not fit for a dog."

McDonald's announced its move in conjunction with the Humane Society of the U.S. The stalls confine adult female hogs whose offspring are raised and slaughtered for bacon and sausage, giving the sows enough room only to stand up and sit down. They're among the practices criticized by Chipotle on Sunday in its lengthy ad during the Grammy music awards.

McDonald's, which owned Chipotle until several years ago, said it had been considering demanding the removal of gestation crates for years.

But clearly McDonald's is turning a more open ear toward its critics even as its sales have continued to be robust. Most markedly, the chain has been opening itself to the nutritional critiques of "mommy bloggers" and other mothers whose views it monitors and solicits. Last year's decision to boost the nutritional profile of the Happy Meal, a change that is being rolled out now, was in large part the result of a deeper dialogue with such mothers.

And McDonald's is intensifying its strategy of creating two-way, sustained communications with parents around the globe that has evolved rapidly as the issue of kids' obesity grows and as social media burgeon.

Interestingly, the chain also now is considering expanding this kind of "dialoguing" strategy. This year, it may approach some critics in the nutritional, academic and regulatory communities about such a step, Heather Oldani, McDonald's director of external communications, told brandchannel.

"We've maybe not done as good a job as we should have done sharing where we're at with them, and our evolution, and getting their thoughts and having a dialogue," she said. So McDonald's move on porcine processing could be part of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear — and of being more responsive and transparent.

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