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November 2, 2011

Complaint Filed with SEC Alleging McDonald’s Pork Supplier Makes False Claims

  • This pig, and the next ones, lived in gestation crates at Smithfield Foods' subsidiary Murphy-Brown. The HSUS

  • Pigs are so tightly confined that they can't even turn around, and they can suffer from serious depression. The HSUS

  • Pigs in gestation crates may chew the bars of their cages or show other signs of stress. The HSUS

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission received a legal complaint today from The Humane Society of the United States alleging that Smithfield Foods — a McDonald’s pork supplier and recipient of McDonald’s “supplier sustainability” award — is making false and misleading claims to shareholders and consumers about its corporate responsibility practices. The complaint comes at a time when McDonald’s is heavily promoting the reintroduction of its McRib pork sandwich, and just 24 hours after Smithfield’s launch of its new corporate responsibility website.

According to The HSUS’ complaint filed today, the claims — made in a video series titled Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production — falsely convey to viewers that Smithfield has higher animal welfare and environmental standards than it actually does. Smithfield and its subsidiary Murphy Brown continue to confine breeding sows in gestation crates, which are so restrictive they prevent these animals from even turning around.  

Federal securities law prohibits the making of any false statement of a material fact or the omission of a material fact that would prevent a statement from being misleading.

“McDonald's has publicly recognized that these crates are not good for animals, but it still buys pork from pigs bred using this cruel system,” stated Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection at The HSUS. “It’s time for McDonald’s to get gestation crates out of its supply chain.”

Smithfield’s Video

In its videos, Smithfield claims, for example, that it provides animals with “ideal” living conditions and that their animals’ “every need is met,” despite the fact that the vast majority of its breeding sows are confined in gestation crates — metal cages that virtually immobilize animals for nearly their entire lives. Smithfield also routinely castrates animals and cuts portions of their tails off without painkillers.

The videos, which were released just months after an HSUS undercover investigation documented severe cruelty inside a Smithfield facility in Virginia, also include false and misleading claims about an environmental certification from the International Organization of Standards and misleading claims of “organic” agriculture.

A PDF of the complete legal complaint can be accessed here.

Facts

  • McDonald’s and Smithfield’s own animal welfare advisor, Dr. Temple Grandin, has stated that gestation crates “are a real problem” and “have to go.”
  • In a company video, McDonald’s states that moving sows “from gestation stalls to group housing” is “best for the welfare and well-being of those sows.”
  • In 2007, Smithfield pledged to end its use of gestation crates at company-owned facilities by 2017. In 2009, Smithfield removed that timeline and has yet to publicly set a new one.
  • A 2001 Washington Post article noted: “Some members of [McDonald’s animal welfare] panel identified gestation crates as a particularly inhumane practice...” In the article, a McDonald’s executive refers to the issue as being “towards the top of our agenda.” However, a decade later, McDonald’s still purchases from pork producers that use these cruel crates.
  • Eight states and the European Union have passed laws to phase out gestation crates. Extensive scientific research confirms that confining sows in gestation crates is detrimental to animal welfare.

Media Contact:

Anna West: 301-258-1518; awest@humanesociety.org

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