DineEquity Inc. is the company that owns the restaurant chains IHOP and Applebee’s. Both chains are popular with families in the US. But would people still eat there if these restaurants were known to be cruel to chickens? Well not the restaurants themselves but their egg suppliers. It seems that Michael Foods Inc., one supplier for IHOP, has a serious problem at one of its facilities in Le Sueur, Minnesota. The Humane Society has released footage document mistreatment at the facility including living and dead hens stuck in fences and decaying hen bodies in cages. These are not the kind of image that are conducive to dining. The Humane Society is using publicity to create awareness among customers of IHOP’s “wrong” behavior.
The IHOP initiative is part of a larger campaign to end the use of producing eggs in “battery cages.” Such cages are very small and chickens live their lives in space the size of a piece of paper. The Humane Society wants restaurants to not use suppliers who use battery cages and instead buy from cage free suppliers. This is not the pursuit of a vegetarian agenda, the action is based on the humane treatment of animals. Burger King, Hardee’s, Quizno’s, Carl’s Jr. and Denny’s have all agreed to buy at least 5% of their eggs from cage free sources. IHOP is a target because it has over 1,400 restaurants whose menu includes heavy egg use, eggs are a key ingredient in pancakes. IHOP would be a great addition to the list for the Humane Society.
However, DineEquity is resisting the call. The company does not believe the alternatives to battery cages are any more humane. Interesting, McDonald’s is funding research to help answer the question what is the most humane way to raise hens for laying eggs. Here is the response provided in the news media:
“’Mortality is going to be part of the process,’ said Patrick Lenow, DineEquity’s spokesman.
He said the restaurant company investigated production at Michael Foods and came away confident that the video “was not representative” of conditions at the supplier.
Michael Foods said the video ‘is not an accurate depiction of the laying facilities.’ The company confirmed the video was shot at its plant but said some scenes “were staged for effect.’ Michael Foods said it ‘does not contend that it is perfect or that its employees never make mistakes.’ But the company said the video was designed to promote vegetarian eating and was “unbalanced.’” http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-eggs15-2009oct15,0,2070513.story?track=rss
So DineEquity is taking a stand to defend its supplier and stand in opposition to the Humane Society. Their position is that there is no need to change and that the supplier is being misrepresented with the online video. (You can follow the LA Times link because it has an embedded link to the video).
Here is how DineEquity Inc. describes itself in relation to the treatment of animals:
“Cruelty Free Food
It’s important to state clearly that we are against the cruel treatment of any animal used in the production of food for our restaurants. Our supplier standards go beyond what is required by law to promote the humane treatment of animals used to produce the food we serve. If we find that a supplier is not meeting our standards, we work with that supplier to improve. If there is no improvement, we will find a supplier who does meet our standards.
We support efforts in our industry that enforce and improve standards for the humane treatment of animals. We also rely on experts in the field such as Dr. Jeffery Armstrong of the University of Michigan College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to provide research and guidance on animal welfare.
As big as we are, we account for only a small fraction of the animal-based products purchased each year in the U.S. Our ability to impact industry wide practices is somewhat limited, but we will continue to communicate and enforce our standards and look for ways to improve the treatment of farm animals.
- Adherence to Standards of Humane Treatment
- Audit Suppliers for Compliance to Standards
- Work with Suppliers to Improve
- Identify Alternative Suppliers if Necessary
Be careful what policies are in print for public consumption. The Humane Society sent out news releases with the following information:
“The Humane Society of the United States filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission regarding false and misleading statements IHOP, and its parent company DineEquity, Inc. (DineEquity), are making on IHOP’s and DineEquity’s Web sites regarding animal cruelty in IHOP’s supply chain.” http://www.chainleader.com/article/ca6701959.html
For additional information about the IHOP concerns you can visit http://www.hsus.org/farm/news/ournews/ihops_animal_cruelty_091609.html .
The page has the headline: “Take a Bite out of IHOP’s Animal Cruelty” with images of abused chickens.
Questions to Consider
- What public rationale would you provide from IHOP siding with its supplier?
- What is the argument for IHOP working with the Humane Society and any downside to the strategy?
- How harmful is it to use DineEquity’s own animal cruelty policies/statements against it?
- Video and still images of abuse animals are powerful. How might groups “abuse” those images for gains?
- What should the ethical guidelines be for using such disturbing images?
- How would you evaluate DineEquity’s statement as an effort to manage their reputation?
- How will the restaurant industry as a whole be affected by the battery cage issue in the future?
- What recommendations would you make for addressing the battery cage issue?
- How might this situation create doubt about DineEquity’s CSR?