Nearly a quarter million people have signed a petition to Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest meat processor and major U.S. pork supplier based in Springdale, AR, from consumer watchdog group SumOfUs.org and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) demanding the company develop plans to stop suppliers from using gestation crates.

The petition follows the announcements of many of the nation’s largest food companies – including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kroger, Safeway, and Denny’s – that they will eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. The effort also follows this spring’s release of undercover footage taken by the HSUS at a Wyoming pig farm supplying animals to Tyson Foods, in which abuse was alleged.

“Consumer citizens have sent a message that is loud and clear to Tyson’s that they don’t support forcing pigs to spend their lives crammed inside cages so small they can’t even turn around,” said Taren Stinebricker-Kauffman, founder and executive director of SumOfUs.org. “Consumers are showing their power over corporations to shift their practices and shift entire industries. It’s time for Tyson to move beyond gestation crates to alternative housing.”

While other leading pork companies – like Smithfield Foods and Hormel – have stated their company-owned pig breeding operations will be gestation crate-free by 2017, and Cargill’s breeding operations are already 50% gestation crate-free, Tyson has indicated no plans to stop the use of  gestation crates in its supply chain, and continues defending their use.

“Countless people care about how animals raised for food are abused, and gestation crate confinement has come to epitomize that cruelty,” continued Stinebrickner-Kauffman. “The demise of gestation crates has become inevitable, and Tyson should stop lagging behind its competitors and start thinking outside the crate.”

Earlier this spring, SumOfUs.org members were instrumental at getting Tim Hortons, the fourth-largest restaurant chain in North America, to commit to getting their pork producers to submit plans for phasing out gestation crates by the end of 2012.