A Corporate Calculation
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


Jill Richardson, Food.Change.org
May 2009

What is the price of bad PR over cruel treatment of laying hens to a fast food joint? What is the value of protesters outside restaurants or negative newspaper articles? And how does that compare to the cost of switching from eggs laid in battery cages to cage-free eggs? That is the calculation that nearly every fast food chain in the country is considering.

The Humane Society of the United States calls battery caged hens "the most abused animals in all agribusiness" and has managed to have battery cages banned in some states, most famously in California. They are currently working to have a law passed banning them in New York and Ohio, and threatening to take the question to the public in a ballot initiative in Ohio (the #2 state in the US for egg production next to Iowa) if a law does not pass.

Agribusiness, in the meantime, is going NUTS over this. Abso-freakin-lutely bonkers. If you want to read something REALLY FUNNY, check this out, where a Big Ag radio show asks a Baptist preacher what the Bible says about animal rights. They apparently found the one guy in the church who firmly believes in evolution, and he says: "If you believe in evolution, then we won... If dolphins don't like it they can grow opposing thumbs and farm us maybe a million years from now."

I'm personally a fan of ballot measures not only because they get good laws passed (like CA's prop 2 which bans veal crates, farrowing crates for sows, and battery cages for hens), but they also get these issues played up prominently in the media. While the message isn't a blatant call for consumers to go vegetarian or buy from their local farmers' markets, when they see how their food is produced they begin to ask how they can find food from animals treated more humanely. (One of my friends decided to go veg after seeing Sarah Palin's photo op in front of turkeys being killed for Thanksgiving, in fact.)

But back to the fast food joints... here's where they came down on the issue. Burger King, Hardee's, Carl's Jr, Quizno's, and Denny's will each buy roughly 5% of their eggs from cage free hens. That's pretty pathetic. If you believe that hens in battery cages are treated cruelly and should not be kept in cages, then you believe ALL the hens should not be treated cruelly - not just 5% of them. This is clearly just to get HSUS off their backs and to perhaps get some good headlines in the process. But it goes down hill from there. Wendy's is only buying 2% of its eggs from cage-free hens. And McDonald's? They'll "study" the issue for 2 years and then decide. I guess the value of bad PR from animal cruelty is not that great to them. They're hoping this issue gets swept under the rug and that HSUS will not dare speak out against the other 95% of what they are doing in fear of upsetting the current 5% agreements. LAME.

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