KFC, Chick-Fil-A, Denny’s Among Major Chains That Still Use Caged Pigs for Pork

5 Mins Read

Many of the US’ biggest fast-food chains still use caged pigs for pork and have made no commitments to end the practice, according to a new report.

If you thought your Black Forest Ham sandwich at Subway was ethically sourced, I’ve got some bad news for you. Same story if you had a similar thought about your sausage, egg and cheese biscuit at Chick-fil-A.

These restaurants, among 11 other fast-food chains in the US, still use caged pigs for their pork, according to an investigation by the non-profit Animal Equality. While some companies have progressed their efforts to end caged farming, others are lagging behind, with no such commitments outlined or having walked back on previously announced targets.

This includes KFC, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Papa John’s, Denny’s, BJ’s Restaurants, Dunkin’ Brands, Sonic, Texas Roadhouse, Red Robin, Qdoba, and First Watch. These chains source their pork products from pigs that have been confined in gestation crates for all or part of their pregnancies, despite the practice now being illegal in 11 states.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Shake Shack, The Cheesecake Factory, and Wendy’s have all made progress towards eliminating the practice, while Chipotle has done so entirely. “Companies like McDonald’s, Chipotle and The Cheesecake Factory are proving the restaurant industry does not need to cage innocent pregnant pigs,” said Animal Equality president Sharon Núñez.

“There is no excuse for this kind of abuse, especially when the majority of Americans are asking for more animal protection,” she added.

Fast-food chains’ lack of cage-free commitments

denny's animal cruelty
Courtesy: Denny’s

Gestation crates are metal pens that pigs are moved to shortly after they’re impregnated. These typically measure 2ft wide and 7ft long – only slightly larger than the pig’s body. This means the sows can only take one step forward or backwards, and can’t extend their limbs. The floor underneath is slatted, allowing for urine and excrement to fall into an underlying pit.

In the US, around 60% of pigs are confined to crates for their entire pregnancy (which lasts around 114 days) – in fact, they spend nearly three-quarters (74%) of their lives in confinement. “Gestation crates for pigs are a real problem,” animal scientist Temple Grandin has previously said. “Basically, you’re asking a sow to live in an airline seat.”

Keeping pigs in cages restricts their movement, leading to decreased cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and bone density, and higher rates of calluses and limb injuries. The crate itself can cause lesions and sores on the pig’s skin, which worsen during the course of the pregnancy. Caged pigs suffer from more urinary tract infections as well, while increased stress levels can extend to piglets’ health and cause compromised immune systems after birth.

These effects have become a major ESG risk factor, but the aforementioned food companies continue to use pork sourced from caged pigs. What’s worse is that they are lacking in commitments to move away from this practice, too. For example, BJ’s Restaurants, Chick-fil-A, First Watch and Texas Roadhouse have made no public pledges to do so.

Others have made commitments before, but later backtracked from these policies. This includes Dunkin’, Sonic (both now owned by Inspire Brands), Denny’s, Papa Johns, Qdoba, Red Robin, and Subway – all these companies had publicly announced their goals between 2009 and 2012.

Meanwhile, Yum Brands – the parent company of KFC and Taco Bell – has said it will publish a policy on caged farming in September this year, and noted that it will establish benchmarks for moving pigs from gestation cages to group housing.

Public and legislative support for animal welfare

gestation crates banned
Courtesy: Animal Equality

The investigation has already made waves in the fast-food industry, with Denny’s facing pressure to end its use of cages. Its shareholder meeting earlier this month had faced a vote to adopt such a policy, after a proposal by the Humane Society of the United States. But in its proxy filing to shareholders a month earlier, its board recommended a vote against the move, saying: “Unfortunately, the pork supply industry has not evolved as expected.”

Denny’s told Reuters that reducing gestation crates is a “complex challenge within our industry”, but acknowledged “the importance of progressing towards more humane practices”. Following the HSUS proposal, Denny’s amended its website language to claim that half of its pork could come from suppliers that limit gestation crates by 2028 – this was said to be a third of its supply in 2022.

“We will continue to speak up for animals and consumers concerned for their wellbeing until Denny’s does what is right and ends this practice,” said Núñez.

In the US, 98% of all pigs are factory-farmed (totalling 71 million). This type of intensive farming can lead to diseases in the animals, which can transfer to humans who consume them. Recently, fears of African swine fever have escalated globally – in Italy, tens of thousands of pigs were culled last year after an outbreak.

Apart from the welfare and health aspects, pig production and factory farming are also highly detrimental to the environment. Swine alone make up 9% of agricultural emissions in the US, according to one estimate. Factory farming, meanwhile, is responsible for 13% of the country’s methane emissions – a gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon.

This is why some states have outlawed the confinement of pigs in gestation crates. Florida – which recently banned cultivated meat – was the first to do so in 2008. Since then, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Utah have all followed suit.

However, some of these legislations are at risk. California and Massachusetts’ regulations are being challenged in the upcoming Eats Act, a farm bill that could limit states’ ability to regulate agricultural products coming into their borders. It has been described by non-profit Food & Water Watch as “lawmakers’ big gift to Big Ag”.

“This legislation is an opportunity to improve the lives of farmed animals, not dismantle decades of work done to protect them from the cruellest practices in factory farming,” said Maggie Marshall, Animal Equality’s legal advocacy counsel, adding that the bill “puts the wellbeing of animals at risk”.

Voters have demonstrated strong opposition to caged farming. In California, 82% of residents support the state’s cage-free legislation. And a 2018 survey by World Animal Protection found that 80% of Americans were concerned about the treatment of factory-farmed pigs.


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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