Canada's iconic Tim Hortons chain has given its pork suppliers until the end of this year to have "clear plans" in place to phase out sow gestation stalls.
The Oakville, Ont.-based quick-service restaurant firm said it also set a target of purchasing at least 10 per cent of its eggs from producers using "enriched hen housing systems" by the end of next year.
Tim Hortons said Friday it now "intends to give preferred sourcing to pork suppliers who have clearly documented plans to phase out the use of gestation stalls, and egg suppliers working to phase in enriched hen housing systems."
"We believe there are better, more humane and sustainable housing systems that can improve the quality of animals' lives," Timmy's CEO Paul House said in a release.
"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 10 per cent pledge on eggs alone "represents significantly more than 10 million eggs," the company said.
Past that, the company said, "we plan to actively evaluate the industry's capacity to provide eggs from enriched housing systems, and to progressively increase our commitment beyond 2013 as additional supply becomes available."
Tim Hortons said it plans to "share next steps in early 2013, after reviewing industry plans and having further dialogue with the egg and pork industries and other animal welfare stakeholders."
Later this year, the company said, "we will commission scientific, fact-based animal welfare research with leading academic institutions on sustainable, humane animal housing systems."
The company said it also plans to call for a "North American-wide summit" of restaurant companies interested in the treatment of animals in the industry's supply chain.
Tim Hortons has expanded in scope and influence in recent years and is now billed as North America's fourth-biggest publicly-traded quick-service restaurant chain, based on market capitalization.
As of Jan. 1 this year, the chain included 3,295 outlets in Canada and 714 across 10 U.S. states, plus five in the Persian Gulf region.
In its 2011 "sustainability and responsibility" report, released early last month, the company noted it had pledged to source "one per cent of system-wide eggs from enriched-cage hen housing systems" and to "encourage the pork industry to move away from using gestation crates over time."
However, "the egg and pork industries do not have enough hens in enriched housing or sows not housed in gestation stalls to meet the restaurant industry's needs on a viable scale," the company said Friday.
An estimated 97 per cent of egg-laying hens in North America are housed in non-enriched cages and an estimated 70 per cent of breeding sows in the U.S. are housed in gestation crates, Tim Hortons said Friday.
Estimates on sow stall use are "unknown for Canada as the pork industry has been downsizing over the last number of years."
Hen housing systems that allow hens to nest, scratch and perch are "already the standard" in the European Union, the company said. U.S. legislation awaits approval requiring the phase-in of enriched hen housing systems over a 15- to 18-year span.
Other major chains have made similar short- and long-term pledges in recent years. The Wendy's Co., which owned Tim Hortons from 1995 to 2006, said in March it will require all its Canadian and U.S. pork suppliers to provide plans to phase out use of gestation stalls in their operations.
Ohio-based Wendy's since 2007 has given preferential buying to pork suppliers who already have phase-out plans in place.
Miami-based Burger King last month announced a similar pledge, which the National Pork Producers Council in the U.S. warned could "force U.S. hog farmers out of business and lead to more consolidation of the pork industry, all with no demonstrable health benefits to sows."
The NPPC on April 30 praised shareholders in another chain, Domino's Pizza, for rejecting a resolution brought forward by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that would have required its pork suppliers to phase out gestation stalls.
The council said "animal activist groups" such as HSUS have influenced McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King to make "poorly informed decisions on sow housing."
The McDonald's chain said in February it would give its U.S. pork suppliers four months to present plans to phase out the use of sow stalls. McDonald's Canadian chain also currently sources all its pork from U.S. suppliers.
Canadian processors such as Maple Leaf Foods have made similar moves, as have organizations such as the Manitoba Pork Council, which in 2011 pledged to eliminate sow stalls in Manitoba hog barns in the next 15 years.