The announcement that Tim Hortons wants its pork and egg suppliers to treat their animals more humanely appears aimed at heading off a confrontation at its annual shareholders meeting this week.
The ubiquitous Canadian fast-food chain said Friday it's going to give preference to pork suppliers who commit to eliminating the use of "gestation stalls" to confine pregnant sows.
And it plans to buy at least 10 per cent of the 100 million eggs it uses annually from producers who use "enriched hen housing systems" by the end of next year.
"We're calling for an end to gestation stalls for sows and to significantly increase the use of alternative housing systems for hens," Paul House, Tim Hortons Inc. president, said in a news release.
"We believe there are better, more humane and sustainable housing systems that can improve the quality of animals' lives. Striking a balanced, realistic solution for the farming community, which will need to make significant investments in new buildings, is also essential, and we fully recognize this will take time."
The announcement expands on a commitment the company made earlier this year to source at least one per cent of its eggs from enriched hen housing systems and work with the pork industry to improve its hog-housing systems.
Clearly the earlier announcement wasn't good enough.
Animal welfare groups, arguing Tim's was lagging behind other fast food outlets in eliminating "cruel and unethical" methods of confining animals, were planning to show up at Tim Hortons' annual shareholders' meeting in Toronto this Thursday.
"Now, with positive announcements from Wendy's, Burger King, and McDonalds, all of whom are taking steps to phase out cages, it's a perfect time to turn up the heat on Tim Hortons," the Vancouver Humane Society said in a release posted on StraightGoods.ca.
"Tim Hortons' annual general meeting is on May 10th and shareholders will want to know what steps Tim Hortons will be taking to protect its brand and catch up with competitors."
Supporters were encouraged to sign an online petition warning Tim's of a consumer boycott unless its policies changed.
The newest announcement may forestall a confrontation.
"Tim Hortons' condemnation of gestation crates today (Friday) sends another signal to the pork industry that it can't just keep confining animals in these extremely tight cages," Matthew Prescott, a spokesperson for the U.S. Humane Society, told the Toronto Star.
Tim's has 20 per cent of its roughly 4,000 outlets in the United States, Prescott pointed out.
In its news release, Tim's included a statement of congratulation from the Canadian Confederation of Human Societies for "recognizing the importance of good animal welfare ...
"The (federation) supports all efforts and commitments towards the sustainable implementation of carefully designed and managed alternatives to conventional confinement housing systems," said chief executive Barbara Cartwright.
Tim's noted 97 per cent of North America's egg-laying hens are not kept in enriched housing systems, defined as cages large enough to allow natural behaviours such as nesting, scratching and perching.
And more than 70 per cent of U.S. breeding sows are kept in narrow gestation stalls. No figure was given for the Canadian industry.
The company also promised further initiatives, including "fact-based animal welfare research" on sustainable, humane animal-housing systems and a North American summit of restaurant companies on the issue.