KFC hasn’t really been the darling of animal protectors in the past. The company kills and sells roughly one billion chickens every year (yes, with a B) and has been widely criticized for not doing enough to provide those animals with sufficiently humane living conditions. Today, KFC in the United Kingdom announced sweeping chicken welfare improvements in line with the European Chicken Commitment, a policy created together by 28 animal rights and welfare organizations in Europe. KFC themselves published their commitment on their website, calling it a “Better Chicken Commitment,” and linking to the detailed text of their goals and plans that pertain to both the UK and Ireland.
The company summarizes its commitments and their significance by also highlighting how they are challenging their industry peers to follow suit:
Well, it means creating even more space (to run around) in our barns, moving towards slower-growing breeds, introducing more natural features such as hay and pecking objects, and even stricter auditing processes. Sounds good, right?
But we’re not stopping there. We want others in the industry to do the same and are calling them to sign up too. While we’d love to be able to do it all on our own, it’s hard for us to have full control as we don’t own the farms we buy from and only represent about 4% of the UK chicken market. So even though we might be the kings of fried chicken, we’re only a small part of the jigsaw compared to our industry peers collectively.
The European Chicken Commitment‘s language for broiler welfare policy is the following:[box type=”shadow”] By 2026, we will require our suppliers to meet the following requirements for 100% of the [fresh, frozen, and processed] chicken in our supply chain:
- Comply with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations, regardless of the country of production.
- Implement a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2 or less. Thinning is discouraged and if practiced must be limited to one thin per flock.
- Adopt breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes: either the following breeds, Hubbard JA757, 787, 957, or 987, Rambler Ranger, Ranger Classic, and Ranger Gold, or others that meet the criteria of the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol.
- Meet improved environmental standards including:
- At least 50 lux of light, including natural light.
- At least two metres of usable perch space, and two pecking substrates, per 1,000 birds.
- On air quality, the maximum requirements of Annex 2.3 of the EU broiler directive, regardless of stocking density.
- No cages or multi-tier systems.
- Adopt controlled atmospheric stunning using inert gas or multi-phase systems, or effective electrical stunning without live inversion.
- Demonstrate compliance with the above standards via third-party auditing and annual public reporting on progress towards this commitment.
In a recent parallel development pointing KFC towards a future of increased consumer awareness and more plant-based offerings, the fast-food chain launched a month-long test in the UK with their own vegan chicken-replacement sandwich, wittily named the Imposter Burger. Launched in 20 location on June 15th, the burger sold out in just four days, resulting in a 500 per cent higher market demand than other new sandwich launches by KFC, reported ChooseVeg.
Animal welfare advocates should welcome both of these developments from KFC. While meat-serving fast-food companies are usually not seen as sympathetic to animal causes in the slightest, the likes of KFC are very keen to forecast and follow changing consumer demand. With their massive scale, they also represent major leverage for putting welfare policies into action. They should be congratulated for making these moves – and then followed closely to make sure policies are enforced, and built on to advance faster towards the future where animals are no longer used to serve human needs.
Jasmin Singer is the author of The VegNews Guide to Being a Fabulous Vegan (Hachette, December 2020) and the memoir Always Too Much and Never Enough; the co-host of the Our Hen House podcast; and a longtime animal activist and public speaker.