OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) -- McDonald's Corp. said Thursday that its U.S. pork producers will work over the next 10 years to phase out the use of crates to confine sows when they're pregnant.
The fast-food giant announced in February that it would require all of its U.S. pork suppliers to say by May how they would stop using the increasingly unpopular gestation stalls.
Many pig farmers keep pregnant sows in the crates to reduce aggressive behavior by separating them from other hogs and feeding them individually. Saying the tightly packed stalls are inhumane, animal rights groups have pressed restaurant operators to abandon the devices.
Several other fast-food chains — including Burger King Holdings Inc., Wendy's Co., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Hardee's, which is owned by CKE Restaurants Inc. — already have dropped or begun to move away from suppliers who use gestation crates.
McDonald's took a more cautious approach by working with its existing suppliers to alter their practices. The company said its goal with the plan, which was developed with input from suppliers and animal welfare experts, is to buy pork only from producers that do not use the crates by the end of 2022.
As an interim step, the company said it will touch base with its producers in 2017 to ensure the process of eliminating the stalls is underway. It can be costly and labor-intensive.
"We value our relationship(s) with our suppliers and our shared commitment to animal welfare," Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of McDonald's supply chain management for North America, said in a statement. "Our approach seeks to build on the work already in place, and we are also sensitive to the needs of the smaller, independent pork producers in phasing out of gestation stalls."
McDonald's, based in Oak Brook, Ill., is the nation's largest burger chain and one of its largest pork purchasers with 14,000 restaurants across the country.
Its shares fell 7 cents to close at $89.34 Thursday as the broader markets slipped.