Add Burger King to the list of food providers that are embracing "crate-free" pork. Officials for the world’s second-largest hamburger chain will start buying eggs and pork from suppliers that don't "confine their animals in cages and crates."

Burger King will start by securing 2 percent of its eggs from “cage free” suppliers, and 10 percent of its pork from producers that "allow sows to move around inside pens, rather than being confined to crates." It's not clear if that just applies to gestation crates or also includes farrowing crates. Burger King officials say they will purchase more as more farmers shift to the appropriate methods and product prices become more competitively priced.

The changes apply to Burger King suppliers in North America and Canada, where the chain purchases more than 40 million pounds of eggs and 35 million pounds of pork annually. Officials plan to push cage-free egg purchases to 5 percent by year's end, and it's crate-free pork purchases to 20 percent.

Burger King officials recognize that both products will cost more, but exactly how much is still being negotiated. Food prices at the companies’ restaurants "will not be increased as a result," they say.

This follows Wolfgang Puck's announcement that he will shift his restaurants and other food production systems to meat and egg suppliers that "meet strict animal-welfare codes."

Smithfield Food's decision to move gestating sows out of crates and into groups during the next 10 years is believed to be a response to McDonald's officials questioning the use of crates.

“The whole area of social responsibility, social consciousness, is becoming much more important to the consumer,” Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm, told the New York Times. “The industry is going to see that it’s an increasing imperative to get on that bandwagon.”

The Humane Society of the United States, sees Burger King’s action as innovative. "It's an important trigger for reform throughout the entire industry,” says Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer.

“When the big boys move, it makes the entire industry move,” TempleGrandin, animal scientist as ColoradoStateUniversity, told the New York Times. Grandin serves on McDonald’s and Burger King's animal-welfare committees, as well as for other food companies. 

Burger King officials say this decision is designed to stay ahead of consumer trends and to encourage farmers to move into more humane egg and meat production.

“We want to be doing things long before they become a concern for consumers,” Steven Grover, Burger King's vice president for food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance told the New York Times. Grover said the company would not use the animal welfare initiatives in its marketing campaigns.

HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have stepped up their pressure on animal-rearing issues with food companies such as Burger King. PETA's "Murder King" campaign, which ended in 2001, got the ball rolling. Since that time, PETA and Burger King officials have meet periodically to talk about animal-rearing standards. HSUS added more pressure a year or so ago.

Source: New York Times