MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) – McDonald’s Corp. said Friday it has dropped a Minnesota-based egg supplier after an animal rights group released an undercover video of operations at the egg producer’s farms in three states.
The video by Mercy for Animals [WARNING: Link contains strong and potentially disturbing material.] shows what the group calls animal cruelty at five Sparboe Farms facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. Its images include a worker swinging a bird around by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chick’s beaks.
“The behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald’s wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers,” Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president for sustainability, said in a statement.
The move also followed a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated Wednesday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found “serious violations” at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. The warning said eggs from those facilities “have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.”
Officials with Sparboe Companies LLC didn’t return phone calls, but the company issued a statement calling the video “shocking” and saying an internal investigation identified four employees “who were complicit in this disturbing activity” and were fired this month.
“I was deeply saddened to see the story because this isn’t who Sparboe Farms is,” owner and president Beth Sparboe Schnell said in a statement posted on a company website. “Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable and completely at odds with our values as egg farmers. In fact, they are in direct violation of our animal care code of conduct, which all of our employees read, sign and follow each day.”
Sparboe, which is headquartered in Litchfield, also said on the website that it has made management changes, taken corrective actions sought by the FDA, and begun retraining all barn workers in proper animal care procedures.
McDonald’s said the “most alarming actions on video” didn’t happen at Sparboe’s facility in Vincent, Iowa, which supplied its restaurants, but they violated the standards the company sets for its suppliers. McDonald’s also insisted the food it serves is safe.
McDonald’s said it got Sparboe eggs via Cargill Inc., which said it was suspending Sparboe as a supplier.
“We will not tolerate mistreatment of animals anywhere in our supply chain,” Chris Roberts, president of Cargill Kitchen Solutions, said in a statement. He also said the issues the FDA raised “warrant additional review by Cargill.”
Tim Loesch, a spokesman for Wayzata-based Cargill, declined to say how many eggs Sparboe supplied it or how much the company was paid.
Mercy for Animals isn’t satisfied with McDonald’s decision to stop accepting eggs from Sparboe, said Matt Rice, the group’s director of operations.
“These are company-wide, policy-level abuses,” Rice said. “There’s a culture of cruelty and neglect at McDonald and its suppliers.”
McDonald’s said it is participating in a three-year study that compares traditional versus cage-free hen housing systems, but Rice said the company continues to get most of its eggs from hens in battery cages that hold a lot of birds in cramped conditions.
“McDonald’s is simply sidestepping the issue now. It’s time McDonald’s requires all of its suppliers to un-cage hens and finally give these animals the basic freedom to spread their wings, to walk and engage in other natural behaviors,” he said, noting that McDonald’s has already switched to cage-free eggs in Europe.
Mercy for Animals conducted its investigation from May 23 to Aug. 1, Rice said. The group got its people hired at the farms and sent them in wired with hidden cameras, he said. They “documented daily abuses that would shock and horrify most Americans yet are largely considered standard and acceptable to the egg industry,” he added.
Nathan Runkle, the executive director of Mercy for Animals, said that much of the abuse occurred in front of managers and supervisors.
The Mercy for Animals video even shows an unnamed worker talking about the abuse and how he’s told his fellow workers not to engage in it.
Below is a statement from McDonald’s.
McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner. Based upon recent information, we have informed our direct supplier, Cargill, that we are no longer accepting eggs from its supplier, Sparboe. This decision is based on McDonald’s and Cargill’s concern regarding the management of Sparboe’s facilities.
This is not a food safety issue for our menu items. We can assure our customers that eggs in our entire supply chain meet McDonald’s high standards for quality and safety.
Our primary commitment is to our customers, and we will continue serving safe, high-quality food without disruption.
Regarding the undercover videos, the behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald’s wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers. We take this responsibility – along with our customers’ trust – very seriously. It’s important to note that the most alarming actions on video did not occur at Sparboe’s Vincent, Iowa, facility that supplies McDonald’s. Nonetheless, our extremely high standards for our suppliers prohibit this conduct.
McDonald’s cares about how our food is sourced and we have a long history of action and commitment to improve the welfare of animals in our supply chain. We are a founding member of the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) and are participating in an unprecedented three-year study that compares traditional, cage-free, and enriched laying hen housing systems on a commercial scale. For our customers, that means we’re working with scientists and suppliers to determine the most optimal hen housing method considering impacts on hen health & welfare, food safety, environment, and other important factors.
McDonald’s is proud to be recognized as a leader in the restaurant industry for serving safe, quality food. Customers can feel good about eating at McDonald’s.”
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