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McDonald's animal cruelty record is far from perfect. The company has been under fire after multiple investigations exposed cruelty at its chicken suppliers.
Words by Nimisha Agarwal
McDonald’s animal cruelty record is far from perfect. The company has been under fire over the past few years after multiple investigations exposed cruelty at its chicken suppliers. The company has done very little to address these issues in its supply chain, especially compared to other fast food companies like Burger King and Dunkin’. How many chickens does McDonald’s kill, and what problems arise during slaughter?
McDonald’s is the second-largest purchaser of chicken in the world. Around the world, the company is responsible for the deaths of billions of chickens every year. In the UK alone, McDonald’s serves over 30 million chickens every year. According to Fact Retriever, “of this total, 60 percent of the chicken is important frozen from Brazil, 9 percent comes from Thailand, and 30 percent from Holland. Just 1 percent of the McDonald’s chicken in Great Britain comes from Great Britain.”
Humane—or behaving more “humanly”—means showing compassion or benevolence towards another individual. Going by this definition, McDonald’s chicken is anything but humane. The birds undergo genetic manipulation to grow abnormally large and heavy, thus providing more “meat.” Unable to bear the weight of their bodies, many chickens are left with broken limbs and become susceptible to disease. Imagine inhaling your own feces while being stuck in them for days. This is what happens with the chickens raised to be meat for McDonald’s.
Chicken barns are hardly cleaned, and the chickens are covered in feces for days, all while inhaling ammonia and other toxic fumes created by animal waste. Heart disease and overcrowding kill chickens even before they reach the slaughterhouse. The slaughter process is quick but not painless, as chickens are shackled upside down, which often results in fractured limbs. Many birds are not properly stunned and remain fully conscious when their throats are slit. If that still does not kill them, then they die from the boiling water of de-feathering tanks.
McDonald’s has no guidelines clearly outlining personal space for chickens, which restricts chickens’ freedom of movement and ability to perform natural behaviors. A high stocking density means that the birds cannot even clean themselves with their beaks, which is part of their vital grooming behavior. It has been observed that many birds, in an attempt to make a space for themselves, try to stick to the borders of the walls. The area becomes littered with animal waste, which affects the air around them and can lead to serious health consequences. A lack of personal space can also lead to stress and adds to their sicknesses.
Natural light prevents stress in chickens and is important for a healthy life. However, the chickens used in McDonald’s only have access to artificial light, which causes extreme stress and disruption of circadian rhythms in chickens. Why does McDonald’s want the chickens to be exposed to such light, knowing the repercussions? To keep the chickens feeding! Highly lit environments alter the feeding motivation of chickens, making them want more food and fattening them up to be killed sooner. Having dark periods and shade leads to improved health, less injury, more natural behavior, and decreased mortality rate.
The area where chickens are kept is seldom clean, and many of the birds spend the day sitting in their own waste. With legs that cannot bear the weight of their fattened breasts, they struggle to get themselves out of the waste, causing burned bellies, loss of feathers, ammonia burns, severe inflammation, and damage to the eyes. It also affects their mucous membrane and respiratory tracts, causing lesions on the skin and especially the footpad.
Chickens are not only exploited for meat but also eggs by McDonald’s. During the breeding process, male and female chicks are sorted. Female chicks go on to become layer hens, but because hatched male chicks cannot lay eggs, they are of no use and so they are killed, often by grinding their day-old bodies alive.
McDonald’s works with suppliers that selectively breed chickens to accelerate their growth process, essentially making it easier to fatten them up for meat. This unnatural growth is extremely harmful to chickens. Firstly, many chickens form leg deformities and are not able to walk properly. They cannot even stand up because their legs just cannot take the weight of their abnormally large bodies.
Secondly, since they are not able to get up, let alone walk, many of them are not able to reach food and water and die slowly and painfully of starvation and dehydration. Many chickens also suffer from organ failures and heart attacks due to the stress that accelerated growth puts on their bodies and pass away.
The system used by McDonald’s to kill their chickens ensures that they will suffer. They are shackled upside down, fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, on a moving processing line. This shackling causes leg fractures in chickens and also terrifies them, as they are held by the necks and hung upside down, often improperly. Then, they are moved towards an electric water bath, where they are dunked and stunned.
However, the stun is not always effective. Often, the flapping wings of the terrified birds inadvertently touch the electric water bath before their heads, causing painful pre-stun shocks. And in cases where their heads do touch the water bath, the stun is rendered ineffective. The birds proceed on the line, still conscious after the bath and having their throats slit.
While McDonald’s may have tried to address the growing demand for better animal welfare, the measures have been largely inadequate. There are no proper systems, parameters, or mechanisms to effectively enhance welfare mechanisms for the chickens that they kill. Also, McDonald’s has still not invested in vegan options nor done even half of what its counterparts are doing to improve animal welfare. They’ve till now avoided any real interaction with animal rights groups and only taken into consideration voices that suggest some changes here and there, but still largely echo the company’s main objectives: profit, no matter what.
If there is one takeaway from this, it should be to question the idea of humane killing itself. Humane killing creates an us-versus-them mentality between animals and humans, with humans on the more compassionate side, and animal as the “savage.” This dynamic is inherently political in nature, extending far beyond everyday biology. Perhaps it would be essential to question whether killing can ever be humane. Perhaps the most humane compassionate act would be to let these antiquated hierarchies fall.
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