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Activist investor Carl Icahn is known for using his money and influence to press for changes he wants to see at large corporations. His latest campaign sees him squared up against McDonald’s over issues of animal welfare. He claims that McDonald’s allows its pork suppliers to use what he deems inhumane practices – practices he says they committed a decade ago to phasing out.
“That’s a situation that is just horrible. It’s obscene. You got these companies making all this money and the animals are just suffering for no reason,” Icahn told Bloomberg in an interview.
The specific practices at issue involve what are called “gestation crates,” small, metal enclosures that keep pregnant sows upright and unable to sit, lay down, or turn around for the entire term of pregnancy. The crates became popular in U.S. industrial pig farming starting in the 1970s. As First Post reports, they make it possible to keep the maximum number of sows in a minimum of space and with limited human care.
In 2012, Reuters reported on an announcement from McDonald’s that “by 2022 it will only buy from farmers and other sources that do not use gestation stalls.” Icahn says that the company has fallen short of that commitment.
“By the end of 2022, the Company expects to source 85 percent to 90 percent of its U.S. pork volumes from sows not housed in gestation crates during pregnancy,” reads a McDonald’s statement issued in response to Icahn. “Despite industry-wide challenges for farmer and producers, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and global swine disease outbreaks, the Company expects 100 percent of its U.S. pork will come from sows housed in groups during pregnancy by the end of 2024.”
Icahn – who has an estimated net worth of $23.5 billion, according to Bloomberg – reportedly only owns 100 or 200 shares of stock in McDonald’s. While that is a small stake for a man historically known for buying significant investments in the companies he hopes to influence, it’s enough – along with his personal reputation and ability to shine a media spotlight – to nominate new people to the McDonald’s board of directors who would be able to advocate for change. The Guardian reports has nominated sustainability-focused investor Leslie Samuelrich and restaurant executive Maisie Ganzler to the board of directors and will encourage other investors to support them at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in April.