The World’s Largest Fast Food Companies Are Failing Chickens

A new report from World Animal Protection identifies the cruel mistreatment of chickens by suppliers to eight of the world’s largest fast food companies—including Burger King, Domino’s, Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, Nando’s, and McDonald’s.

Every year, billions of chickens live and die on factory farms. They spend their lives crowded into industrial feeding operations where they barely have enough room to flap their wings. Many suffocate and die to due overcrowding. Then over the course of just 40 days, they reach full size. This unnaturally fast growth cycle and lack of mobility take a toll on their bodies. Many develop lameness and are in constant pain.

After the birds’ accelerated 40-day growing period—which causes extreme amounts of stress on their bodies—they are sent to slaughter. Factory farmed chickens live their lives brutally confined, without access to sunlit, for less than six weeks before they are killed, sent to be processed, and sold by the world’s largest fast food companies.

These claims are disturbing, to say the least, but the lack of a substantial commitment to better chicken welfare by any of these companies looms large for the future of the entire chicken industry.

According to World Animal Protection, “The results show an almost universal disregard among the brands within their policies, business targets, and objectives for improving the treatment of chickens throughout their global supply chains.

World Animal Protection: “Enough is enough”

Despite mounting demand from consumers to change the way fast food companies treat chickens, businesses still can’t find room in their budgets for effective animal welfare policies.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Companies like Burger King and Domino’s do have a series of other relatively ineffective animal welfare policies. The problem is that most companies communicate the policy and leave it at that. They rarely, if ever, report tangible results.

That’s where World Animal Protection’s new report comes in, dubbed the Pecking Order.

In a sweeping statement of purpose, the group points clear ahead to the issue at the center of the farm animal rights movement. All this horrible suffering is happening behind closed doors, and those closed doors are allowing all this horrible suffering to happen. The cycle is toxic, and what the Pecking Order report makes even more clear is that it’s systemic. Chicken welfare is a problem at McDonald’s, just like it is at Domino’s and Nando’s and Burger King.

McDonald’s current chicken welfare policy

As part of our broader chicken sustainability journey, in 2017 we made a global commitment to source chickens raised with imported welfare outcomes. This means:

  1. Measuring key farm-level welfare outcomes on an ongoing basis, setting targets and reporting on progress.
  2. Developing state-of-the-art welfare measurement technology.
  3. Providing enrichments to support the expression of natural behavior…

Unlike every other fast food company named in the report, McDonald’s presents an individual animal welfare policy for chickens. It’s the only company with a written chicken welfare policy. In it, McDonald’s commits to partnering with companies, producers, and suppliers to invest in new monitoring technology for chickens. Once those measures are in place, they claim they will be able to better identify areas for improvement in real time—the first technology of its kind according to the company.

Despite its claims, McDonald’s is failing chickens.

According to the Pecking Order report, this policy only covers 70% of McDonald’s business. It also ignores the biggest problems chickens face, like overbreeding.

McDonald’s goes on to remind consumers that they don’t raise the chickens themselves. The nature of the fast food industry is that even multi-billion-dollar companies like McDonald’s can’t do it all. They contract supplier to grow their chicken. So, it’s those suppliers that McDonald’s has to hold to a higher animal welfare standard if they want to better the lives of their chickens.

For some, McDonald’s “word to the wise” might be reminiscent of a cafe’s promise that they made the bread themselves. The implication, in the case of the cafe, is that you can trust the bread because they made it themselves. The cafe controls the ingredients that go in the bread. They control the environment in which the bread rises, the oven it’s baked in, and even how it’s served. Naturally, it’s better this way.

But there’s a world of difference between trusting bread because it’s homemade and trusting a fast food giant’s commitment to animal welfare because they don’t raise the chickens themselves. Then, McDonald’s welfare claims become all the more problematic. They don’t raise their chickens themselves (neither does any fast food company, mind you). In not doing so, fast food companies miss the trust that the cafe wins from its customers.

Where’d all the performance data go?

By saying they don’t “make” the chicken themselves, for lack of a better word, they establish an expectation that chickens are better off being raised by someone else.

Further, their policies necessitate that they will disclose how chickens are raised, the conditions of its environment, and the general welfare of the chickens, regardless of whose responsibility it is to raise the chickens. But when it comes to performance data from chicken producers, well, there is (almost) none.

free range chicken

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Of the nine companies named in the report, only five of them revealed any performance data about how the half-hearted commitments to animal welfare affected the lives of animals–for better or for worse. The reality is that fast food companies are not as committed to bettering the lives of chickens as they say they are.

“No company currently provides robust performance data on the issues that matter when it comes to chicken welfare,” the report reads.

This is what effective animal welfare policy looks like.

The majority of consumers want to improve the lives of chickens throughout the food industry’s supply chain. But better lives for chickens only start when companies like McDonald’s commit to changing the way their suppliers treat chickens.

That hasn’t happened yet. Fast food companies and their supply chains are failing chickens. This is what real policy to affect positive change for chickens looks like.

Companies should have a published global policy on chicken welfare with clearly defined scope and clear commitments to…

  1. Use chickens bred for measurably improved welfare outcomes, including detail on selected breeds
  2. Avoid close confinement, specifically cages/multi-tier systems and limiting stocking densities to 30 kg/m2 or 6 lbs/ft2
  3. Provide chickens with meaningful environments (eg including perches, pecking substrates, and lighting)
  4. Use humane slaughter processes, including the requirement for pre-slaughter stunning and avoidance of live shackling

The proposed policy is included in the Pecking Order report, largely to establish a baseline as this is the first report of its kind. It addresses the major discrepancies between fast food companies’ animal welfare policy and how they are actually treating animals.

Are targets in place to affect real change? McDonald’s is committed to meeting its commitments to better chicken animal welfare by 2024, but they’re the exception. Most of the companies named in the report have no targets in place.

As a result, we don’t know how most fast food companies treat their animals. The problem persists anywhere there are closed doors. World Animal Protection’s Pecking Order report is a momentous step towards better animal welfare policies, better reporting from fast food companies, and better lives for chickens everywhere.

caged broiler chicken

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Report: The Pecking Order

The Pecking Order 2018 is the first report of its kind. Let’s make sure each one of these multi-billion-dollar companies acts on its findings before the next Pecking Order is announced. Get the full report here and read more about the Change for Chickens campaign.

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