This week, Dunkin’ Brands Group became the latest big restaurant chain to commit to pork produced without the use of gestation crates, a growing movement that has won commitments from a slew of other restaurant chains and foodservice providers, from McDonald’s and Burger King to Sodexo and ARAMARK, and even supermarket chains such as Kroger and Safeway have promised to make the shift. For Dunkin’ and the other companies, the commitment kicks off a process that starts with requiring their U.S. suppliers to outline a plan to phase out the crates in the coming years, as the Associated Press reported. Realistically, the change won’t come overnight — instead, it will take years for farmers to make the shift.
CNN’s Eatocracy blog wrote a piece in June explaining what the crates are and how they’re used, citing experts on both sides of the argument. The Humane Society of the United States has brought the issue to the forefront. A growing number of states have outlawed the crates or are considering doing so, and websites and blogs display hours of debate between animal welfare activists who believe the crates are inhumane and pork industry experts and supporters who say the crates are safe and necessary. A guest column in the Newark Star-Ledger in August that decried the practice and supported a bill to ban gestation crates in New Jersey was the cause of much debate, as was New York Times writer Mark Bittman’s piece offering the New Jersey Farm Bureau’s position.
To me, it seems like a no-brainer that the animals would be better off if they weren’t confined to the crates, but even those who argue in favor of the crates can’t deny that public opinion is on the side of abolishing the practice — which raises the question of demand. Namely, where can restaurants buy humanely raised food and how much will it cost?
Chipotle Mexican Grill launched its “Food With Integrity” practice more than a decade ago when it contracted to source humanely raised pork from Niman Ranch, and in the years since, it has transitioned to more humanely raised meats and organic produce as sources have become available.
Today, Chipotle has grown into an international chain with major buying power, joining Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway when it comes to commanding the clout to be first in line for the humanely raised and sustainable products customers say they want. But Chipotle began as the exception and, until quite recently, humanely raised meat has largely been the province of smaller independent restaurants that could source all they needed from a single producer.
Now, if even the big chains acknowledge that such a dramatic change in the supply chain will take years if not decades, what does that mean for the smaller players? Will independent eateries that want to serve humanely raised meat be priced out of the market, at least for the foreseeable future?
Have you tried to source crate-free pork? Will the shift by big chains make it easier or harder to find sources? Tell us about it in the comments.