How well are animals treated before they land up on our plates?

It is easy to forget that what you are consuming may have come from an animal. Buying meat, eggs, dairy products, and other animal by-products is something that many people do, but few people associate the steak in the packaging with a cow (hopefully) grazing in a field. Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at the concepts of cage-free eggs and crate-free pork.

Last year Moneybags looked at two issues regarding animal products we consume: How ethical are your eggs? And Should you stop eating meat?

Some supermarkets and restaurants are making it a priority to source their food ethically and are able to inform consumers about where their food is coming from.

The United States based McDonalds and Burger Kings have committed to using either cage-free eggs or crate-free pork, and in some cases both. However, not all companies are jumping on the bandwagon and in some instances South African meat providers still have some way to go.

Cage-free eggs and crate-free pork

Louise van der Merwe, from Compassion in World Farming SA/Animal Voice explains cage free may not be a better alternative. “A non-cage-free egg comes from a hen confined in a battery cage on a space allowance that is 75% of an A4 sheet of paper – for life. A cage-free egg is laid by a hen who is not confined in a cage and although the conditions in which she lives are very crowded, she is able to walk, flap her wings and lay her egg in a nest.  The concept of a cage-free egg differs from the concept of a free-range egg which implies that the hen has more space as well as access to the outdoors. In reality, however, due to overcrowding, there may be very little difference, if any, between cage-free and free-range eggs. However, cage-free is infinitely better than being trapped in a cage.”

The website Crate Free Future, explains that gestation crates are tiny cages used to confine breeding pigs. “A gestation crate, also known as a sow stall, is a metal enclosure used in intensive pig farming, in which a female breeding pig (sow) may be kept during pregnancy and for most of her adult life,” says an online dictionary.

According to van der Merwe, Woolworths sells cage-free eggs, while Pick n Pay sells crate free pork (see below for responses from both stores). Furthermore, she reveals that the likes of Sodexo, Compass Group, Nestle and Unilever have made a global commitment to the use of cage-free eggs.

The call for more responsibility

There is a call for more restaurants to be more ethical in the sourcing of their produce. This includes the use of cage-free or free range eggs, as well as free range meat. Currently in South Africa there is an online petition calling for McDonald’s South Africa to commit to the use of cage-free eggs, as its United States equivalent has done.

In a statement released by McDonald’s South Africa earlier this year noted that its international counterpart has committed to using cage-free eggs. “We take note of the moves made by our USA and Canadian counterparts to fully transition to cage-free eggs for all restaurants over the next ten years. We are currently exploring the viability of expanding McDonald’s cage-free policy to South Africa and we will complete our investigation within a year.”

In addition, McDonald’s South Africa stated: “We source our farm eggs directly from our own farms and suppliers, who meet McDonald’s stringent quality and food safety standards. Our customers can enjoy our egg offerings at all of our restaurants in South Africa confident that they meet the highest standards of safety.”

However, cage-free eggs is not the only change that overseas restaurants are starting to implement. There are also calls for the termination of gestation crates for sows (female pigs). On the website, Crate Free Future, both McDonald’s and Burger King in the United States, who have franchises in South Africa, pledge to phase out the use of pork that was subject to gestation crates.

The Burger King pledge reads: “Burger King has pledged to only purchase pork from suppliers that can demonstrate documented plans to end their use of gestation crates for breeding pigs.”

When Moneybags contacted Burger King South Africa regarding its policy on eggs and pork, it noted: “Burger King South Africa does not use or serve egg or pork products at its local restaurants.

“Currently 98% of our products are responsibly sourced from premium local suppliers. A rigorous vetting process is conducted for each supplier including an in-depth analysis of animal welfare policies and food traceability where relevant.”

McDonald’s stated the following in its pledge on Crate Free Future: “The goal of McDonald’s ten-year plan, which was developed with input from its suppliers, pork producers and animal welfare experts, is to source all pork for its US business from producers that do not house pregnant sows in gestation stall by the end of 2022.

“McDonald’s believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future. There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows. McDonald’s wants to see the end of sow confinement in gestation stalls in our supply chain.”

Click here for a list of restaurants in Cape Town that have pledged to use only cage-free eggs.

Supermarkets

Pick n Pay says it is committed to using pork from farms that do not keep sows in gestation crates. David North, Pick n Pay group executive for strategy and communications, says: “In 2014 Pick n Pay made a commitment that all fresh pork would come from farms which use group housing for pregnant sows during the gestation period (that is, the sows are not kept in gestation crates). We’re happy to have met this target and all our fresh pork is sow-crate free. This was a major step forward for farm animal welfare standards in South Africa.

“For processed PnP pork products, two-thirds also now meet the standard and we are working to get the rest on board as soon as we can.”

Furthermore, North highlights that eggs are an important and affordable source of protein for many of Pick n Pay’s customers. To ensure that customers are aware of the source of the eggs they are purchasing, i.e. cage-free/free range or battery farmed, the packaging is clearly labelled.

“Pick n Pay offers its customers a choice of eggs farmed under different methods, including free-range, all of which comply with standards set by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Our eggs are all clearly marked on the packaging. As more customers buy free range eggs, we will ensure supply increases to meet that growing demand,” says North.

Since 2004, Woolworths has only sold free range eggs. Furthermore, the retailer notes that more than 95% of the egg used as an ingredient in their other food products is now also free range. In addition to free range eggs, Woolworths also sells free range chicken, lamb and beef, which it says are clearly labelled for customers to make informed choices.

With regards to gestation crates, Woolworths says: “Towards the end of 2014, we announced plans to start sourcing pork from farms that no longer use sow stalls to restrain pregnant sows for prolonged periods of time. The introduction of “sow-friendly” pork represents another milestone on our Good Business Journey. Woolworths’ GBJ is a commitment to ethical trade, sustainable farming and production methods, and social responsibility

“We have completed the sourcing implementation in our fresh pork products and the ‘kinder to sow’ messaging now appears on fresh pork.

We are still on a journey to roll this out to the rest of our vast and diverse product range containing pork and remain committed to working closely with our suppliers, who are making significant investments to alter their infrastructure, in order to deliver to the kinder to sow milestone.”

Van der Merwe believes that the world is becoming aware of the cruelty endured by farmed animals. “We believe there is only one struggle – the evolution of human morality. But morality cannot be achieved at all if animals are excluded. True humanity begins with a valuing of others – inclusive of religion, colour, tribe, orientation, gender and species.”