On Friday, fast food giants McDonald’s announced their new global welfare standards for broiler chickens. I am disappointed to say that it completely ignores key principles of broiler welfare such as the problems with fast growth breeds and enough space for them to move freely.
The industry has recently seen leading companies tackle these very issues by signing up to the US or European ‘broiler asks’ which demand compliance to these crucial requirements for chickens. These include direct competitors to McDonald’s such as Burger King and Subway, as well as others like Pret a Manger and Starbucks - and on Friday, Kraft Heinz announced their commitment too.
McDonald’s has traditionally been a leader for animal welfare which makes this sub-standard strategy all the more disappointing. Let’s remember this is the same brand that made an announcement in September 2015 to fully transition to cage-free eggs in all of their restaurants in the U.S. and Canada (within 10 years), which caused over 200 US companies to follow suit and further ripples were witnessed across Europe too. They are the same company that has set the bar so high in the UK fast food sector by using only 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 even introduced the McVegan burger on a trial basis in selected countries in line with encouraging a more plant-based diet. Their great work progressing standards for animal welfare has been recognised by us on an international scale for many years.
They have an excellent reputation for their welfare standards and have experience and influence in the marketplace - therefore I cannot help but ask why they have not committed to significantly improving the welfare standards of their chicken on a regional basis?
Increasingly, companies are responding to the growing consumer concern for animal welfare and the weight of scientific evidence showing the need to improve broiler welfare, so why haven’t McDonald’s set the bar as high for broiler chickens as they have done for laying hens?
Our extensive work with food businesses means that we recognise that introducing higher welfare standards at a global level may be challenging due to the complexity and scale of supply. However, by taking a regional approach where policy could be more advanced - for example 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.
At a recent forum organised by McDonald’s themselves, it was discussed how ‘foodservice must take action and use its clout to make higher animal welfare the norm’, so I encourage them to take heed of this message and strengthen their business credentials in line with their excellent track record. For the millions of consumers who care, but ultimately for the millions of chicken who will otherwise suffer the consequences.