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McDonald's, Target drops egg supplier

By Steve Karnowski

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19 2011 3:45 p.m. MST

McDonald's said the suspension of its business dealings with Sparboe was not temporary but refused to say that it would never work with Sparboe again.

"We're not going to turn around in a month and work with them again," McComb said. "But we would never say never."

In the case of one U.S. fishery that did not use "sustainable methods" in its farming, McDonald's ended its business relationship for eight years before the company "completely turned around its practices," McComb said.

Sparboe describes itself as the fifth-largest shell egg producer and marketer in the United States, operating seven processing plants supported by 33 egg-laying and pullet production sites in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. The company says it serves retail, wholesale and foodservice customers in 26 states.

Sparboe spokesman Lyle Orwig said Friday the company has a "zero tolerance policy" for any animal abuse or cruelty. He said all employees are trained by a veterinarian and work with a crew leader who also has been trained.

"If he (the crew leader) sees anything, he would automatically correct it if he sees someone doing something wrong," Orwig said.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's said the "most alarming actions on video" didn't happen at Sparboe's facility in Vincent, Iowa, which supplied its restaurants, but they violated the standards the company sets for its suppliers. McDonald's also insisted the food it serves is safe.

McDonald's said it got Sparboe eggs via Cargill Inc., which said it was suspending Sparboe as a supplier.

"We will not tolerate mistreatment of animals anywhere in our supply chain," Chris Roberts, president of Cargill Kitchen Solutions, said in a statement. He also said the issues the FDA raised "warrant additional review by Cargill."

Tim Loesch, a spokesman for Wayzata-based Cargill, declined to say how many eggs Sparboe supplied it or how much the company was paid. Orwig said it was too soon to tell what effect the loss of McDonald's business would be.

"Right now our focus is making sure that we are compliant with everything and get to the bottom of how it could have happened," Orwig said.

Mercy for Animals isn't satisfied with McDonald's decision to stop accepting eggs from Sparboe, said Matt Rice, the group's director of operations.

"These are company-wide, policy-level abuses," Rice said. "There's a culture of cruelty and neglect at McDonald and its suppliers."

McDonald's said it is participating in a three-year study that compares traditional versus cage-free hen housing systems, but Rice said the company continues to get most of its eggs from hens in battery cages that hold a lot of birds in cramped conditions.

"McDonald's is simply sidestepping the issue now. It's time McDonald's requires all of its suppliers to un-cage hens and finally give these animals the basic freedom to spread their wings, to walk and engage in other natural behaviors," he said, noting that McDonald's has already switched to cage-free eggs in Europe.

Mercy for Animals conducted its investigation from May 23 to Aug. 1, Rice said. The group got its people hired at the farms and sent them in wired with hidden cameras, he said. They "documented daily abuses that would shock and horrify most Americans yet are largely considered standard and acceptable to the egg industry," he added.

Orwig, the Sparboe spokesman, said the undercover taping was troubling because company employees sign a code of conduct that they will report any abuses immediately to a supervisor. In this case, he said, there were no reports.

The video was first aired Friday on ABC's Good Morning America.

Online:

Mercy for Animals video site: http://www.mcdonaldscruelty.com

Sparboe Farms response site: http://www.sparboeupdate.com

FDA letter: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm280413.htm

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Kravitz contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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