Gestation crates do not sound like pleasant places to be pregnant. Built for breeding sows, they are rarely larger than a pig’s body. Boxed in by metal bars, the animals often can’t lie down, or really squirm much at all. As a result, animal rights activists consider them inherently cruel. For more than a decade they’ve been pressuring pork producers and buyers to phase them out. The industry argues the crates can offer a safer environment than group housing. But activists have had some success in their fight. A full ban on gestation crates will soon be in place in the European Union; Burger King now buys 20 per cent of its pork from gestation-crate-free farms, and McDonald’s announced last month it wants all its suppliers to move away from crate-confined breeding in the near future.
Now the Humane Society of the United States is going after another target: Canada’s Tim Hortons. At an upcoming shareholders meeting, the society will introduce a motion encouraging the company’s board of directors to report on the feasibility of eliminating crate-bred pigs, as well as eggs laid by caged hens, from its U.S. supply chain. (The Vancouver Humane Society recently launched a petition calling for the same from Canadian suppliers.) The move comes after years of talks with the company went nowhere, according to U.S. Humane Society food policy director Matthew Prescott: “Taking this kind of shareholder action is always the last step for us.”
It’s been an awkward year for the undisputed king of Canadian doughnuts. Tim Hortons is in the midst of a major U.S. expansion, but the company has been without a permanent CEO to guide that push since Don Schroeder, a 20-year Tim’s veteran, left the chain under still unexplained circumstances last May. A big wash of bad publicity—like the kind the Humane Society can generate—is the last thing the company needs as it tries to establish its brand south of the border.
Tim Hortons would not make anyone available for an interview, but in a statement, a spokeswoman said the company has “been actively working with industry groups, including researchers and our suppliers, to make realistic long-term improvements in the area of animal welfare.” Prescott, however, is not impressed. “It’s absolute green-washing,” he says. “Tim Hortons’ competitors all have policies to move toward gestation-crate-free pork. But Tim Hortons can’t even say it’s moving in that direction.”