Bad news for fans of the infamous McRib: The Humane Society filed a legal complaint against Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, which supplies the pork for McDonald's sandwich. In an undercover operation from 2010, the animal rights group says it uncovered a number of disturbing farming practices, including the use of tightly confining gestation crates that cause sows to suffer "from open pressure sores and other ulcers and wounds," with nary a veterinarian in sight. Will these gross allegations sully the reputation of the barbecue-sauce-slathered sandwich? Here's what you should know:
Should we really be surprised?
Perhaps not. But what makes these allegations particularly "appalling" is that Smithfield claims their animals are raised under "ideal" conditions, says Joyce Chen of New York Daily News. The Humane Society is accusing the food suppliers of "misleading its consumers," notably through a series of PR-friendly videos called "Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production." Meanwhile, McDonald's recently recognized the farm for its commitment to animal care, even bestowing Smithfield with a "supplier sustainability" award.
What did the investigation find?
The undercover operation's report alleges that "Smithfield pigs were living in hellish conditions where basic needs were systematically unmet," says James McWilliams at The Atlantic. Female pigs were crammed "into gestation crates, preventing movement for most of their lives." These crates were allegedly "coated in blood from the mouths of pigs chewing the metal bars...." Other offenses: "A sick pig was shot in the head with a captive bolt gun and thrown into a dumpster while still alive; prematurely born piglets routinely fell through the gate's slats into a manure pit… and employees tossed baby pigs into carts as if they were stuffed animals."
And what does Smithfield say?
Representatives reject the Humane Society's claims. According to Tiffany Hsu of the Los Angeles Times, the company says that the "allegations are wholly without merit and appear to be another in a series of frivolous attacks," adding: "We are proud of our unparalleled track record as a sustainable food producer and stand confidently behind our company's public statements concerning animal care and environmental stewardship."