McDonald's orders its suppliers to phase out de-beaking of hens

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The Independent US

The fast-food giant McDonald's has ordered all its egg suppliers in the United States to improve the treatment of their hens, including phasing out the practice of de-beaking and providing much bigger cages. The company also wants to ban forced moulting, when farmers withhold food and water to make the hens lay more eggs.

The fast-food giant McDonald's has ordered all its egg suppliers in the United States to improve the treatment of their hens, including phasing out the practice of de-beaking and providing much bigger cages. The company also wants to ban forced moulting, when farmers withhold food and water to make the hens lay more eggs.

The new standards were recommended by a panel of scientific experts appointed by the company to address concerns from lobby groups, including animal rights campaigners, about the way animals are treated. That McDonald's has decided to require the improvements, and made them public, is evidence of increased public concern about food quality and animal welfare in the US. It is the first American food supplier to introduce such regulations.

Robert Langert, senior director of public and community affairs for McDonald's, said: "This is our pathway to be a leader on this issue."

Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for the animals rights group People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals, said that the new rules were an improvement, but "it's the bare minimum of bare minimums that you refuse to starve and dehydrate animals to death".

The move was also believed to reflect concern among scientists that the current treatment of hens could increase the risk of diseases that can spread to humans. Recommendations along the lines now adopted by McDonald's were made to all egg producers recently by the industry's own scientific advisers.

McDonald's, which uses 1.5 billion eggs a year, has recently been the target of action by animal rights campaigners in Europe, and US observers were frank about the degree to which European concerns about food safety and animal welfare are starting to influence US consumers. Several of the practices that McDonald's wants outlawed are already banned or in the process of being phased out in Europe.

McDonald's appears also to see a market advantage in the US from being regarded as a pioneer in a move away from factory farming. The company has already tightened its regulations for the treatment of livestock and is renowned for its strict quality control from farm to table. It conducts regular inspections of slaughterhouses and farms to monitor compliance with its regulations, and the new rules will be enforced in the same way.

The company had no comment on whether the changes would raise prices in its hamburger outlets. Increasing the size of cages by 50 per cent will be the most expensive improvement.

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