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Food & the Law

McDonald's, Target Drop Egg Supplier Over Cruelty Concerns

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Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 11:43 AM

click to enlarge McDonald's will find a new egg source for its McMuffins. - FLICKR/CALGARY REVIEWS
  • Flickr/Calgary Reviews
  • McDonald's will find a new egg source for its McMuffins.

McDonald's and Target dropped one of the nation's largest egg suppliers after an animal rights group released an undercover video last Friday of the egg producer's farms in three states, according to the Associated Press.

McDonald's Corp. said the same day that it had dropped Sparboe Farms as a supplier after a video by the group Mercy for Animals showed cases of animal cruelty at five facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. Target Corp. soon followed, going so far as to say it would pull eggs from the Litchfield, Minn.-based company off its shelves.

Sparboe produces 300 million eggs a year, in regular, liquid, frozen and dried form, and ships them to restaurants and stores across the country. The company's Vincent, Iowa, plant had billed itself as the sole fresh egg supplier to every McDonald's west of the Mississippi.

McDonald's officials say Sparboe was a "significant" supplier and that it was unclear when, or if, the company would work with the fast-food chain again. Sparboe's Iowa facility produces 2 million eggs a day, seven days a week.

Images shot by Mercy for Animals by undercover workers showed a worker swinging a bird around by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chicks' beaks.

"The behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald's wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers," Bob Langert, McDonald's vice president for sustainability, said in a statement.

The nation's largest retailer -- Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- also buys Sparboe eggs but said it stopped working with Sparboe six weeks ago.

McDonald's and Target's moves followed a warning letter to Sparboe dated November 16 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found "serious violations" at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella.

Sparboe Companies LLC said Saturday it would create a task force to review the company's food safety and animal care. Beth Sparboe Schnell, Sparboe Farms' president and owner, said the company was "shocked and deeply disturbed" by the video.

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.

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

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