McDonald’s is currently embroiled in a stakeholder fight after an activist investor complained about the quick service restaurants (QSRs) use of pig gestation crates. The poultry industry should keep an eye on this animal welfare fight, given the recent rise and growing influence of socially conscious investors. 

The McDonald’s pig welfare fight

Carl Icahn – who calls himself a “leading shareholder activist,” according to his website – is currently protesting the fact that some of McDonald’s pork suppliers still house pregnant pigs in crates. The QSR previously vowed to phase out the use of pig gestation crates by the end of 2022.

As a result, Icahn, who owns only 200 McDonald’s shares that are worth approximately $50,000, has nominated two new candidates for the fast-food chain’s board of directors to further these animal welfare claims. In 2021, activist investors restructured the Exxon board of directors to boost more climate-friendly initiatives. 

According to McDonald’s, the brand will source 85-90% of its U.S. pork from pigs not housed in gestation crates by the end of 2022 and pushed the 100% goal to 2024.

“Mr. Icahn's stated focus in making this nomination relates to a narrow issue regarding the Company's pork commitment, which The Humane Society U.S. has already introduced through a shareholder proposal. This is an issue on which McDonald's has been a leader,” the McDonald’s Corporation Board of Directors said in a February 20 statement.

“Despite McDonald's progress, Mr. Icahn has instead asked for new commitments, including to require all of McDonald's U.S. pork suppliers to move to ‘crate free’ pork, and set specific timeframes for doing so. While the Company looks forward to promoting further collaboration across the industry on this issue, the current pork supply in the U.S. would make this type of commitment impossible. Furthermore, it reflects a departure from the veterinary science used for large-scale production throughout the industry, and would harm the Company's shared pursuit of providing customers with high quality products at accessible prices.”

Ironically, Icahn has not called for the same welfare changes at Viskase, a company that produces packaging and casings for the pork and poultry industry and which he co-owns.

The rise of ethical investment

Lenders and other major stakeholders are beginning to factor in environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns before making investment decisions about brands or, as in the case above, use their funding to influence a company’s decision.

It’s only a matter of time before these investors turn their focus to the poultry industry.