Farm-to-table restaurants, the local co-op, and your neighborhood farmers market tend to be the first places that come to mind when discussing ethical food practices. The last thing place consumers tend look to for food conscience establishments is fast-food chains. That, however, is about to change for one particular establishment. McDonald's, the mother of all fast-food chains, announced that by 2024, they will only be serving humanely raised and slaughtered chickens.
McDonald's is improving the animal welfare of their sourced chickens by setting new guidelines when it comes to the rearing and slaughtering of their animals. The new standards will include monitoring how much light the coops receive, ensuring the animals have clean coops, and even gassing during the slaughtering process. In the process called stunning, chickens are gassed so a painless death is carried out, offering more humane slaughterhouse practices and following animal welfare standards.
Currently, McDonald's does not own any of the slaughterhouses or factory farms that produce the meat for their restaurant. But that doesn't mean they don't care. For more than 25 years, McDonald's has been collaborating "with suppliers, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and animal welfare experts to develop and improve the handling, housing, health and slaughter practices for the animals in our supply chain" according to their website.
The new standards will require McDonald's chicken suppliers such as Tyson Foods Inc and Cargill Inc, some of the largest food companies in the U.S., to follow suit by the deadline of 2024. As McDonald's is the second-largest chicken meat buyer - KFC is unsurprisingly the first - these companies are on board with the new regulations.
As McDonald's announced in 2015 that they would only serve cage-free eggs in the United States and Canada, and would stop serving chickens pumped with antibiotics, this step seems as a natural progression. McDonald's Senior Director Bruce Feinberg wrote in a statement,
"Today's announcement involves an 8-step program, focused on the health and welfare of chickens, including outcome-based measures providing us a holistic picture of the lives of those animals in our supply chain and the ability to have informed conversations with producers about where improvements might be required.
Together, we believe these new commitments provide the ability to drive and measure continuous improvement for the health and welfare of chickens."
If you're wondering what this means for food prices, the transition won't have any effect on the menu - in monetary terms. As the new standards are set in place, prices are to remain the same. Although this means an increase in McDonald's food production prices, the decision to become more humane allows consumers to make purchasing decisions they otherwise may not be able to afford to make.
What Animal Welfare Labels Mean
The following three labels are independent ratings from advocacy groups and are not enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That being said, these are real people who care about the living conditions and farming practices taking place rather than a government group.
Global Animal Partnership-Certified
Found on labels in Whole Foods, this certification is currently working to bring McDonald's chickens to its standard.
Animal Welfare Approved
AWA, overseen by nonprofit A Greener World, requires continuous outdoor pasture access for all animals.
Each species raised in factory farming is set to a certain standard. Cattle are required outdoor access while broiler chickens must be without cages.
Unlike the Animal Welfare labels, these food labels require approval from the USDA.
Cage-free chicken are given 1 to 1.5 square feet of space in the barn. Their entire lives may be spent indoors.
Birds must be allowed to range outside for at least 120 days of the year. Producers only need to demonstrate that animals were "allowed access to the outside" to use the free-range label.
Cows are given a grass-based diet. Grass-fed does not mean the cows roamed outside.
Food which is minimally processed.
There is no definition to pasture-raised, thus a cow that has been outside for one day could be pasture-raised.
Some animal activists, however, feel it's not enough. Vice President of Farm Animal Protection for The Humane Society of the United States Josh Balk said in a Fox News statement,
"McDonald's falls behind dozens of major food companies on this issue including many of its competitors, a disappointing position for the company that formerly was a leader on animal treatment."
It is believed that the new regulations don't address the issue of chickens growing too quickly, leading to a slew of health problems and a decline in the well-being of the chickens. This puts them below the mark when compared to other fast-food chains like Burger King.
While the 8-Step program may not have all activists on board, a change in regulations will hopefully see their own improvements in the process.
This article was originally published on November 2, 2017