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Carl Icahn escalates war with McDonald’s over treatment of pigs

Activist investor Carl Icahn nominated two new directors to the McDonald’s board, as he ratchets up pressure on the chain to stop sourcing pork from farmers who mistreat pigs. The 86-year-old billionaire, who owns a small stake in the fast-food giant, made the move amid talks to get the company to prioritize the welfare of pigs, the Wall Street Journal reported. McDonald’s told The Post that it would evaluate Icahn’s two nominees. Earlier this month, Icahn went public with his criticisms of the company’s dealings with hog farmers who use gestation crates that confine pregnant sows in narrow cages for weeks at a time. Icahn was reportedly recruited to the cause by the Humane Society of the United States, which was upset with McDonald’s for not following through on its 2012 pledge to completely cease working with producers who use the crates by the end of 2022. McDonald’s blamed “industry-wide challenges” including global swine disease and the COVID-19 pandemic for the delay in meeting the pledge. A company rep told The Post that McDonald’s, which has pledged to phase out the purchase of any pork from pigs that are housed in groups during pregnancy by 2024, “has been a leader” on the issue. The fast-food giant “expects to source 85% to 90% of its US pork volumes from sows not housed in gestation crates during pregnancy” by the end of this calendar year, the company said. McDonald’s said it buys around 1% of all US pork that is produced. The pork is then cooked and included in key menu items such as the Bacon McDouble Cheeseburger, the Sausage McMuffin, and the McRib sandwich. For decades, hog farmers have been using gestation crates to confine individual pregnant sows and gilts because some of the animals become aggressive toward others. During the four-month duration of her pregnancy, a sow is kept caged inside a 2½-by-7-foot stall. The sow then gives birth to a litter of piglets before she is returned to the crate a month later, when she is impregnated again. Hog farmers claim the confinement is necessary since it allows them to monitor the animals’ health and feed. They repeat the cycle for three to four years until the sow’s production drops off. Several states have banned pig breeders from using gestation crates, and large pork producers and food service providers have pledged to phase out their use as public pressure has grown on factory farms to allow for greater animal movement. Although Icahn is noted for taking big stakes in companies and then pressing for change, he owns only 200 shares in the Golden Arches — or about $50,000 worth. In this case, he appears to be using his sway more than his pocketbook. In its statement to The Post, McDonald’s questioned why Icahn hasn’t made similar demands of Viskase Cos., a company that makes casings for sausages. Icahn, who has a net worth of around $16.8 billion, is a majority owner of Viskase.

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