WASHINGTON The Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, has purchased shares in Steak ’n Shake Co. and Jack in the Box Inc. in an attempt to influence their purchasing decisions with regard to chicken, eggs and pork, the political lobbying group said.
The HSUS holds a stake in 38 food-related companies, and works to pressure companies to change procedures or purchasing decisions related to animal welfare.
“The HSUS intends to use its stockholder position to move the company toward moving away from eggs from caged hens, pork from crated pigs and poultry from producers that use a particularly cruel but standard method of slaughter…” it said in a statement this week announcing its purchase in Steak ’n Shake stock.
“Steak ’n Shake’s complete lack of meaningful movement on animal welfare puts the company at odds with its competition and public opposition to farm animal abuse,” said Matthew Prescott, corporate outreach director for the group’s factory farming campaign.
In announcing its purchase of Jack in the Box shares, HSUS said it would encourage that company to “influence its poultry suppliers to switch from the current slaughter system … to controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK), which has been shown to greatly improve animal welfare.”
Indianapolis-based Steak ’n Shake, which franchises or operates 485 family-dining restaurants, did not return phone calls at press time.
Aspokesman for San Diego-based Jack in the Box, which operates or franchises 2,200 quick-service restaurants and also owns the 500-unit Qdoba fast-casual burrito chain, said the company had no comment about the stock purchase.
Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, which represents chicken producers and processors, said the HSUS “is basically PETA with a nice suit,” referring to the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“The statements they make are really false and misleading,” he added. “The Chicken Council has an excellent set of guidelines” regarding animal treatment.
They include instructions on chicken processing, stating that the birds should be insensible to pain when killed. It also details procedures to verify that the chickens are harvested painlessly.
The United Egg Producers implemented chicken-treatment protocols in 1998, after years of research on whether different procedures affected stress levels in the birds. That group says about 80 percent of eggs in the United States come from producers who follow those guidelines, which can be downloaded here.
The HSUS also said this week that Sonic Corp., an Oklahoma City-based company that operates and franchises the 3,500-unit namesake chain, had said it would phase in cage-free eggs and pork from facilities that did not confine breeding pigs in gestation crates. Sonic also was encouraging chicken suppliers to switch to CAK slaughter, the HSUS said.
Nancy Robertson, senior vice president of communications for Sonic, said the chain has been working mostly with PETA during the past 18 to 24 months to develop its animal welfare guidelines, which were posted on its web site today.
The website says at least 8 percent of Sonic’s pork products now come from suppliers who do not use gestation crates, and the company plans to increase that to 16 percent by 2016. It says all of its suppliers must meet United Egg Producer standards, and that, beginning this year, at least 1 percent of its eggs will come from cage-free chickens. Sonic will increase that percentage by one point annually to reach 5 percent by 2015.
The HSUS, which is not affiliated with local humane societies or animal shelters, was instrumental in passing California’s Proposition 2 in the 2008 elections, which added new regulations to the treatment of egg-laying hens, gestating sows and veal calves.
The HSUS says it has stock in 38 food-related companies:
Burger King Holdings Inc.
Career Education Corp. (Le Cordon Bleu)
Cal-Maine Foods Inc
The Cheesecake Factory
ConAgra Foods Inc.
Costco Wholesale Corp
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Domino’s Pizza Inc.
Einstein Noah Restaurant Group
General Mills, Inc.
Hain Celestial Group (Plainville Turkey Farm)
Jack in the Box
Kraft Foods, Inc.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.
Ruddick Corp (Harris Teeter)
Smithfield Foods Inc.
The Steak n Shake Co.
Tasty Baking Company
Tim Horton's, Inc.
Tyson Foods Inc.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Wendy’s/Arby’s Group Inc.