Today, fast food giant McDonald’s released their global chicken welfare standards, setting the foundation for improvements in bird management to deliver measurable physical outcomes. Unfortunately, it completely disregards the key welfare issues being addressed by the broiler industry at the moment, which tackle the fundamental problems of fast growth breeds, and the basic need to provide enough space for them to live.
Over 50 companies in the US, including McDonald’s main competitors, Subway and Burger King and — just announced today — Kraft Heinz have recently committed to make these meaningful improvements to the lives of chickens, so it’s disappointing that McDonald’s with their experience and influence in the marketplace cannot commit to the same welfare standards on a regional basis.
Unilever’s leading brand Knorr recently strengthened its global welfare commitments and set out additional welfare criteria for its chicken standards in the US and Europe and Elior Group recently became the first contract caterer to sign up to the new welfare requirements for broiler chickens, across its entire global operations.
When there are so many companies responding to the increasing consumer concern for animal welfare and the weight of scientific evidence showing the need to improve broiler welfare, we expect so much more of McDonald’s.
McDonald’s traditionally leads the way in animal welfare. In September 2015, they made an announcement to fully transition to cage-free eggs in all their restaurants in the U.S. and Canada (within 10 years). This caused a huge ripple across the industry with around 200 US companies, including Walmart – the largest grocer in the US - following suit, and further ripples were witnessed in Europe too.
In the UK, their welfare credentials are high – they only use free-range eggs (whole and ingredient), organic milk from dairy cows with access to pasture grazing, and RSPCA Assured pork across their entire menu. They have won multiple awards from Compassion, including Good Egg Awards in Europe (2008), New Zealand and Australia (2016); a Good Sow Commendation in the UK (2013) for not using sow stalls or farrowing crates, and a Good Dairy Commendation earlier this year (UK). McDonald's are also one of the first quick service restaurants in South Africa to commit to 100% cage-free eggs by 2025.
So what’s wrong with chicken? Why can’t McDonald’s set the bar high for chicken as they have done for laying hens? Whilst Compassion recognises that introducing higher welfare standards at a global level may be challenging due to the complexity and scale of supply, by taking a regional approach where policy could be more advanced, say in the US or Europe, it would be possible for McDonald’s to tangibly improve the lives of millions of chickens in their supply chain, and enable a true market shift towards higher welfare chicken.
Dr Tracey Jones said: “We’ve been working with McDonald’s for nearly a decade and admire their leadership and animal welfare credentials, particularly in the UK, but also what they have been doing for laying hens across the globe.
Unfortunately, their failure to recognise the basic needs of broiler chickens, by providing them with enough space and natural light and addressing the need for slower growing breeds – even at a regional level - is disappointing and we urge them to work more on advancing their regional policies.”
At a recent forum organised by McDonald’s, it was discussed how ‘foodservice must take action and use its clout to make higher animal welfare the norm’, so we encourage them to take head of this message and strengthen their business credentials by advancing chicken welfare, as it’s not only what their customers expect but ultimately what's going to be right for the future of their business.