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Animal activist and activist investor Carl Icahn calls out Kroger on animal welfare issues

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I had never heard of the guy but from what I have read about him today, I like him. His name is Carl Icahn and he appears to have evolved into a pretty powerful animal welfare activist. And because he is an activist investor in businesses, he is able through his shareholding to influence the directors of these businesses to improve animal welfare whenever appropriate.

Carl Icahn

Carl Icahn. Photo: Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Wikipedia tells me that in February 2020 Ichan nominated two people for election to McDonald’s’ Board of Directors. As I understand it, this was a campaign to improve animal welfare issues at McDonald’s. It relates to the company’s pork commitment which The Humane Society of America had already introduced as a shareholder proposal. As I understand it, this was one of his early forays into pressuring a business into improving animal welfare.

At one stage he established a horse breeding operation which appears to have been quite extensive. The operation won the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Meadow Star. However, in 1992 the operation called Foxfield stopped operating and became a commercial breeder but in 2004 Carl Icahn shut down Foxfield. Was this a realisation that it was not in the best interests of animal welfare and that Carl Icahn was drifting ever more strongly towards his animal welfare tendencies?

I don’t know but I do know that The Times newspaper today (March 31, 2022) reports that Carl Icahn has launched a broadside against one of America’s largest retailers in accusing Kroger of having “condoned cruelty towards those who are the most defenceless”. He blames the company for failing to tackle animal welfare concerns and underpaying staff. I will dwell on the former in this article.

Carl Icahn who is now 86 years of age, has accused the business’s board of being “completely tone deaf” with respect to concerns around the use of “torturous devices”. He is referring to gestation crates which prevents sows from turning around.

He claims that Kroger’s policies are causing “needless distress”. He has put forward two candidates for seats on the company’s board. Kroger has said that they expect suppliers to have “transitioned away” from gestation crates by 2025.

Carl Icahn also accuses the company of paying its chief executive far too much at 900 times more than their workers. He describes the business as a “quintessential example of why capitalism and business get a bad rap and people are disillusioned with the American Dream.”

Kroger was established in 1883 and is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have almost 2,800 stores across 35 states in America and a market valuation of $41 billion.

In response, the company said that it was not “directly involved in raising or processing” of animals, but is “committed to helping protect” their welfare.

Gestation crates

Female pigs who have been impregnated spend their entire pregnancies trapped in a “gestation crate”. This is a crate which is so tight that the pig cannot turn around (see photo below). Farmers put their sows into gestation crates, they say, in order to maintain animal welfare by monitoring food and separating sows from other aggressive animals.

Gestation crates

Gestation crates. Photo: Wikipedia.

However, to any normal person, it looks inhumane which is exactly what The Humane League says that it is. It entirely prevents natural behaviour. The mother pig will never be able to behave normally towards her offspring. Sows are required to produce piglets which are killed for meat and after two years of life the mother will meet her end for the same reason.

Pigs are factory producing machines and not sentient beings to the farm industry. Gestation crates are considered cruel in several countries where they are banned. However, millions of female pigs across the US still suffer under these horrific conditions daily.

Gestation crates are a space of about 7′ x 2′ which is an area barely larger than the body of the pig herself. As mentioned, she will remain in this space for all of her pregnancy.

After birth the mother is not provided with the opportunity to care for her babies as they have a desire to do. The pork producers take each litter of piglets from their mother when they are around three weeks old. They raise them and then kill them food. Their separation from the mother is traumatic for her and the babies. Normally, in nature, mother pigs nurse their babies for up to 17 weeks.

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