Burger King Corp. wants its pork suppliers to move toward eliminating the use of gestation-sow stalls. The company also announced a deadline for its U.S. egg suppliers to be 100 percent cage-free by 2017.

Burger King, which has more than 7,200 restaurants nationwide, says these “two industry-leading commitments will enhance the animal welfare standards in its U.S. supply chain.” As the world’s second-largest fast-food hamburger chain, the pork products it serves are primarily bacon, ham and sausage. In total, there are more than Burger King 12,500 locations in 81 countries and territories, serving more than 11 million guests daily.

The company has pledged to only purchase pork from suppliers that can demonstrate documented plans to end their use of gestation stalls for breeding pigs, citing The Humane Society of the United States as supporting these efforts. While there is no specific timeline sest regarding Burger King’s pork directive, “their refusal to purchase pork from companies which have not demonstrated phase-out plans happens imminently,” says Matt Prescott, HSUS’ food policy director.

Regarding egg-laying hens, the 100 percent requirement goes beyond the housing changes that the United Egg Producers have outlined in its recently proposed federal legislation. “It means any cages of any kind,” Prescott points out.

“For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare and, through our BK Positive Steps® corporate responsibility program, we continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers,” says Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer, Burger King Corp. “We are proud to announce these new, industry-leading commitments that support meaningful standards of humane treatment in our U.S. supply chain.”

But filling any significant quotas with product that meets such demands is a more significant challenge than company announcements imply. “NPPC respects the rights of companies to make decisions that are in the best interests of their business and customer desires,” says Dallas Hockman, vice president of industry relations with the National Pork Producers Council. “But, there has to be discussions within the supply chain about the ability to even meet these types of requests.”

Particularly because many pork products sold through foodservice are further-processed products, the supply chain is much more complex than for muscle meats, for example. “There is currently no segregation of volume to supply these products,” Hockman notes. He says that while it’s commonly cited that 30 percent of the pork industry has either eliminated gestation-sow stalls or has commitments to move in that direction are simply false. A survey is currently underway to get a more accurate perspective of U.S. sow housing.

Speaking as a pork producer, Everett Forkner, who also is National Pork Board president, told Pork Network, "I've been actively engaged in pork production for 45 years. I've housed sows in dirt lots in groups, in a Cargill system in pens, and in stalls. The changes have all been beneficial to the welfare of the animals. I think we have a system in place today that provides protection, maximum nutrition and individual attention for the animal's health and well-being. To be forced to move to a different system-- as a producer, that's a concern I have." 

Speaking as NPB president, the Richards, Mo., producer, said, individual producers should have the option to raise hogs in the system that best fits their management abilities and preferences. "And all of the systems are proven to be effective," Forkner adds.

In its news release, Burger King points out that it was “the first major quick-serve restaurant chain to implement a set of animal welfare policies aimed at reducing cage confinement of egg-laying hens and has continued its progress toward better conditions for animals in its supply chain.”

Burger King has an Animal Welfare Advisory Council, and came out in 2007 with goals to increase the share of cage-free eggs served in its restaurants as well as purchasing more pork from suppliers not using gestation stalls.

“Burger King Corp. has demonstrated when it comes to America’s largest fast-food chains, it continues to set the standard,” says Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer. “These changes by Burger King Corp. will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain.”

In 2011, HSUS presented Burger King with its Corporate Progress Award “for its industry- leading animal welfare practices.”