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Home  |   Cracking Down on Egg Suppliers  |   Kill Them With Kindness

PART I    Cracking Down on Egg Suppliers    Page  1  2  3  4  5  6

Why the Change?

Industry sources say McDonald's will pay its suppliers more money for their eggs, to cover the cost of these changes. Some estimate that it's going to cost McDonald's at least $10 million. In other words, the symbol of the fast food nation has decided to invest millions to make life better for hens.

photo
Bob Langert, a McDonald's executive, says when animal rights activists approached McDonald's in the early 1990s, executives were willing to learn from them. Photo: Daniel Zwerdling

Bob Langert says McDonald's new animal welfare policies won't seem so surprising if you realize that the company has always been willing to listen to critics and learn from them. To make his point, Langert takes me to one of the company's 29,000 restaurants to make his point. This one is in a Chicago suburb:

"Well let me kind of just show you how we brought the environment to life in our restaurant. You know, the normal customer doesn't really realize all the things we've done on the environment."

Remember how people used to nickname the company "McToxics," and the country was littered with their Styrofoam containers? Back in the 1980s, environmental activists approached McDonald's executives. The activists said, "If you'll stop treating us like enemies, we'll help you stop polluting, and your company will save money, and get good publicity besides." Langert says the project took off.

"So if you look behind the counter here," points out Langert, "for instance Happy Meals—you know the kids love our Happy Meals. Now look at this bag, what do you notice that's different about it?

"It's an off-white, it's a gray," he continues. "It's made from, you can see we label it—it's made with 65 percent post-consumer paper. We use the stuff that you put out on the curb—your magazines, your newspapers, that's what goes into making our Happy Meal bags. By buying it, we're encouraging more recycling."

BOOK EXCERPT
Ethics Into Action
by Peter Singer
A detailed account of the early talks and negotiations between animal rights activists and McDonald's.

Environmental researchers confirm that McDonald's has done more to recycle and cut waste than almost any corporation in America. Langert says when animal rights activists approached McDonald's in the early 1990s, executives were willing to learn from them. The activists told McDonald's about those starving chickens; they said slaughterhouse workers sometimes cut up animals while they're still alive. The activists told the company, "You need to take responsibility: force your suppliers to change, now." At first, McDonald's refused. Langert says don't get the wrong impression; company executives took the issue seriously. But, he says, a corporation can't change overnight.

"Too often I think outside groups are looking for a quick fix. A very quick fix. And a quick fix by definition is quick—it's not lasting. What really makes change—and this is something I've learned over the years—is getting at the heart and feelings and emotions of people we deal with. You know, we don't want to prescribe and dictate change. We want our suppliers, our staff, our employees, our owner-operators to want to do these changes—to feel it in their heart, their soul, and their belly. What you need to do is dedicate time."

So, company executives started studying the animal welfare issue, and talking with activists about it, and talking and negotiating. More than six years went by, the company was still talking. But then, McDonald's began facing other pressures.

Next: Pressure from Protesters