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article imageMcRib meat made from abused pigs living in unsanitary conditions

By Joan Firstenberg     Nov 3, 2011 in Food
Smithfield - McDonald's McRib sandwich is back, but upon closer inspection, it is a very murky process that brings it to the counter. The Humane Society has filed a federal complaint about how the fast-food pork supplier mistreats its animals.
It's been plastered all over the news, The McRib is back! McDonald's is calling it everything from fantastic, flavorful, sweetly scrumptious and savory. The ads also tell us about bucolic happy pigs who are being brought up under humane and sustainable conditions.
But the story is very different. McDonald's pork supplier, Smithfield Foods is being accused by the Humane Society of abusing its pigs by keeping them in gestational crates which they are unable to move in for months until they can be slaughtered. Smithfield, was given a “supplier sustainability” award from McDonald's, calling its pigs’ living conditions “ideal” and saying it is “100% committed” to their care. But a Humane Society undercover investigation conducted last year, found just the opposite to be true. Atlantic writer James McWilliams says the society found
"Smithfield pigs were living in hellish conditions where basic needs were systematically denied."
Newser reports that among the gory details: female pigs cannot move in their gestation crates; so some crates were covered in blood after these pigs tried to chew the bars; pigs were castrated without anesthesia; with no veterinarians in evidence.
A Humane Society representative says,
“It doesn't take a veterinarian to know that locking a 500-pound animal in a cage so cramped she can't even turn around for months on end isn't exactly 'ideal. The restaurant should heed the advice of its own animal welfare advisers and dump gestation crates from its supply chain."
Smithfield Foods forwarded this response to the Atlantic,
"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. Any objective assessment of our practices would conclude that Smithfield and our employees are behaving in a socially responsible manner."
Yahoo's Shine website reports that the actual McRib sandwich begins at a huge factory farm, where in a giant shed with a floor covered in feces tens of thousands of pigs are born into cages in which they don't have enough space to turn around or see the light of day. Because they are removed from their mothers right after birth, many develop strange or you could say, bizarre behaviors, like nibbling on one another's tails because they are not permitted to wean. Pigs whose tails are bitten cannot do anything about it, but often the area becomes infected. There is a solution to that problem. The farm cuts off all the pigs tails shortly after birth. Then when they are mature and ready for slaughter, PETA reports that the farm kills up to 1,100 per hour.
As for exactly what meat is in the McRib, it's not really ribs at all.
Rob Cannell, director McDonald's U.S. Supply said in a 2009 interview that it's primarily shoulder meat. He continues,
“The McRib is made in large processing plants—lots of stainless steel, a number of production lines, and these long cryogenic freezers. The pork meat is chopped up, then seasoned, then formed into that shape that looks like a rib back. Then we flash-freeze it. The whole process from fresh pork to frozen McRib takes about 45 minutes.”
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