Carl Icahn holds a small stake in McDonald's, but the financier has two things he wants now that he's a player in the company's machinations: two people of his choice named to the Mickey Dee's board, as well as an improvement in how the company treats the pigs it uses for its pork products. The Washington Post notes it's an attempted power grab by Icahn, with McDonald's claiming the 86-year-old is trying to jump-start a proxy battle by gathering up enough shareholder proxy votes to switch up the board and push a cause dear to his heart. The New York Times reports that the fast-food giant confirmed on Sunday that Icahn held 200 shares in the chain, though Icahn tells the Post it's only 100, which would give him about a $25,000 stake in the $187 billion company.
Still, that holding gives Icahn an in to nominate Leslie Samuelrich, president of investment fund Green Century Capital Management, and Maisie Ganzler, chief strategy and brand officer of the Bon Appetit Management Company, to the board. Icahn's beef with McDonald's meat sourcing? That the pigs used to provide the pork for the restaurant's sausage patties and other pork products aren't treated well. Specifically, Icahn accuses the chain of breaking a promise it made a decade ago to phase out keeping pregnant pigs in cramped, 2-foot-wide gestational crates, or "sow stalls," which animal rights activists have called inhumane. Earlier this month, Icahn told the Wall Street Journal that McDonald's does eventually move the sows out of such crates, but only after the first four to six weeks of their 16-week pregnancies.
"Animals are one of the things I feel really emotional about," he said, noting his particular pull toward pigs. Icahn became aware of the pigs' plight thanks to his daughter, Michelle Icahn Nevin, a vegetarian who's done work with the Humane Society of the US. The Times calls it the start of a "bitter, and peculiar, contest," as such "corporate agitators" usually only go after a company if they're not doing great—and McDonald's has actually seen its shares climb more than 18% over the past 12 months. In a Sunday statement, McDonald's notes that Icahn hasn't pushed Viskase, a company that produces and supplies packaging for the pork industry—and which Icahn holds a majority stake in—to make similar commitments. It also vows that by the end of 2022, it will source 85% to 90% of its pork from sows not housed in gestational crates, with a goal of 100% by the end of 2024. (Read more Carl Icahn stories.)