Recently, we wrote about the controversy brewing in Sonoma County, California, over the use of gestation crates for pregnant and nursing sows. The rectangular cages, which are so narrow that the sows can’t turn around, have been dubbed inhumane by many animal-rights groups. They’ve already been banned in Florida and Arizona (two states, it must be noted, with very little actual pig farming within their boundaries), and will be outlawed in the European Union by 2013.

Now, according to The Washington Post, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has promised to phase out the use of the crates during the next ten years. With a company as huge as Smithfield, only another corporate supergiant can make a difference. In this case, it was McDonald’s that leaned on the Virginia-based pork producer to make their farming practice—and thus the PR for the buyers of their ham and bacon—a little sweeter.

Maybe Smithfield is finally stepping up its corporate responsibility, after being dogged over the past few years with million-dollar lawsuits from environmental groups and governmental agencies for, among other things, violating the Clean Water Act by dumping hog waste into nearby waterways.

In a press release issued the same day as the Smithfield declaration, the Humane Society of the United States praised the decision and pushed for the rest of the pork industry to follow suit over the next five years.

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