McRib
Are you still lovin' it? Image: Bob B. Brown/Flickr/CC BY-ND

McDonald’s popular seasonal entree, the McRib sandwich, returned to the fast food giant’s menu last month. However, this time around the low-priced entree is attracting more than its usual share of controversy. On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States filed a complaint with the Securities Exchange Commission against the Smithfield Farms in Virginia, which supplies pork to McDonald’s.

Inhumane treatment alleged

The complaint says that the farm uses inhumane practices in the treatment of its animals. It alleges, among other things, that pigs are castrated without the use of painkillers and that they are confined in tiny “gestation crates.” This is all contrary to the farm’s Internet publicity video, “Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production.”

Paul Shapiro, a director at the Humane Society, said:

“They make outlandish claims: that their pigs live in ideal living conditions, that every need of the animals is met. It’s hard to imagine that a pig crammed into a cage where she’s unable to turn around for months on end would consider that to be ideal.”

McDonald’s emailed a statement in its defense to the International Business Times:

“McDonald’s has been a long-time supporter of alternatives to gestation stalls, and we will continue to support the efforts of Smithfield Foods and all of our suppliers to phase them out.”

In 2007, Smithfield Farms announced it would begin to phase out gestation crates. Except, according to the Humane Society’s allegations, that has not happened.

Undercover investigation

The Humane Society of the United States says that it conducted an undercover investigation of Smithfield Farms last year. That investigation allegedly found over 1,000 female pigs stuffed into gestation crates, inside of which they could not even turn around, for nearly their entire lives.

The timeline for an SEC investigation has not yet been announced. Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio and Oregon have all passed laws to phase out the use of gestation crates.

History of McRib

The sandwich made its first appearance in 1981. It was developed by the same man who came up with the chicken nugget, Executive Chef Rene Arend. The sandwich did not fare well in its initial run and was discontinued in 1985. However, in the intervening years, the McRib has developed a sizable following of nostalgic devotees and has since become a seasonal favorite.

Sole food

But according to an article in the Huffington Post, the Smithfield Farm pigs are not the only objectionable ingredient in a McRib. The article claims that the buns used for the sandwich contain a chemical called azodicarbonamide. It is a bleaching agent that is often used in making foam plastics, like the kind used in the manufacture of some shoe soles and in yoga mats.

Azodicarbonamide has been banned as a food additive in Australia and Europe, where it is classified as a “respiratory sensitizer,” which could potentially cause asthma.

Sources

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/mcrib-lawsuit-humane-society-smithfield-farms_n_1075992.html?1320416650
San Francisco Chronicle: http://blog.sfgate.com/hleon/2011/11/04/the-mcrib-sandwich-and-a-yoga-mat-what-do-they-have-in-common/
InternationalBusiness Times: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/243790/20111104/mcrib-tied-humane-society-sec-complaint-mcdonald.htm

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