Hollywood stars Ryan Gosling, Zooey Deschanel and Steve-O are urging McDonald's to improve animal welfare and do away with farming chickens in battery cages at their egg suppliers, saying of the practice, "I'm Hatin' It."
In a letter, which takes a swipe at McDonald's famous "I'm Lovin' It" tagline, the celebrities criticize McDonald's for receiving eggs from egg factory farms "that confine hens to most of their lives in cages," and call on the company to recognize its "moral responsibility" and switch to cage-free suppliers.
"On behalf of compassionate people everywhere, I implore you to help end the needless suffering of these animals by adopting strict and meaningful animal welfare policies worldwide, including the commitment to prohibit the purchase of eggs produced by hens who spend their miserable lives crammed into tiny wire cages," says the letter, which is addressed to McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner and is also signed by celebrities Alicia Silverstone and Maria Menounos. "While McDonald's brags about the 'billions and billions served,' millions of hens exploited for your restaurants are being grossly underserved."
READ: Celebrities' 'I'm Hatin' It' Letter (PDF)
The letter, dated Monday, follows an ABC News "20/20" report in November which showed undercover video shot by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals of one of McDonald's former largest egg suppliers, Sparboe Farms, that showed purportedly cruel conditions including hundreds of chickens packed into small battery cages, sometimes apparently living on top of the remains of other trampled birds.
McDonald's, which dropped Sparboe as a supplier after the ABC News report, said that Skinner had not yet received the letter, but the company has been looking into cage-free options already.
"McDonald's cares about how our food is sourced and we have a long history of action and commitment to improve the welfare of animals in our supply chain around the world," the company said in response to news reports on the letter. "In the United States, we are a founding member of the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) and are participating in an unprecedented three-year study that compares traditional, cage-free, and enriched laying hen housing systems on a commercial scale. For our customers, that means we're working with scientists and suppliers to determine the most optimal hen housing method considering impacts on hen health [and] welfare, food safety, environment, and other important factors. As a result of the study, McDonald's USA is purchasing approximately 1 million eggs per month from each of the housing systems, including cage-free."
Videos Allegedly Show Animal Cruelty at McDonald's Former Supplier
"Scott," the activist who shot the undercover video at Sparboe Farms, said that five to seven birds were kept in each small cage, with their beaks cut at an early stage so they wouldn't peck each other, and that each bird lived its life in an area smaller than a standard sheet of paper.
"There were [dead] birds that were left in the cages that were decomposing for weeks or months at a time," Scott said. "[They] had just been left there . . . in the battery cages with birds who were still alive and laying eggs for human consumption."
The videos also showed workers apparently breaking chicks' necks and swinging birds around by their necks. The investigation, according to Mercy for Animals executive director Nathan Runkle "illustrates that McDonald's lacks the basic policies and oversight to prevent blatant animal abuse at its egg suppliers."
Battery cages are "the model of efficiency but they place an emphasis on profit over animal welfare," Runkle said.
In the wake of ABC News and Mercy for Animals investigation and an FDA warning to Sparboe about potentially unhealthy egg producing conditions, McDonald's and another major retailer, Target, both dumped Sparboe as an egg supplier. Target also immediately pulled its eggs off the shelves. But McDonald's continues to use caged bird suppliers, along with cage-free farms, as they study the effects of each on health, safety and animal welfare.
As to the allegations of animal cruelty at Sparboe, a spokesperson for McDonald's said at the time of the original report that the behavior seen on videos provided by "20/20" was "disturbing and completely unacceptable."
Ken Klippen, head of government affairs at Sparboe defended the hygiene and treatment of animals at his company and said that some the images caught on tape were an "aberration," but defended the use of battery cages in general. Instead, he accused animal rights activists of spreading myths about the cages, saying that it is possible for the birds to turn around and to spread their wings.
Later, Sparboe owner and president Beth Sparboe Schnell posted a letter on the company's website announcing the company had taken "a series of actions aimed at strengthening our animal care procedures and ensuring that our chickens are treated humanely." Those actions included the creation of a "sustainability task force" to improve company practices and re-training for employees who handle birds.
Still, the celebrities said McDonald's needs to make sure their suppliers treat chickens better.
"It's a good time for some great changes at McDonald's. As the largest egg buyer in the entire country, McDonald's has the power -- and the moral responsibility -- to ensure that the eggs in its Egg McMuffins don't come from rotten egg suppliers," the letter says.