Industry News | June 29, 2001

Burger King Announces Animal Handling Guidelines

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Burger King Corporation adopted industry-leading guidelines and audits for the humane handling of food animals and petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully and actively enforce the federal Humane Slaughter Act.

The new guidelines will require suppliers to the BURGER KING® system to adhere to the strictest standards in the industry in the care, housing, transport and slaughter of cattle, swine and poultry. Burger King Corporation will enforce the new guidelines via a series of announced and unannounced audits at suppliers' facilities. Suppliers who do not meet Burger King Corporation's animal handling standards will face disciplinary action.

In its petition, Burger King Corporation reported that independent members of its own Animal Well-being Advisory Council expressed significant concerns over the lack of enforcement of the federal law. For example, Dr. Temple Grandin, a leading authority in animal handling, conducted slaughterhouse surveys in 1996 and concluded that only about 25 percent of the USDA inspectors enforce the Act. Dr. Grandin believes that current enforcement is still inadequate.

"Burger King Corporation is a company committed to the humane treatment of food animals used for our products,'' said John Dasburg, chairman, chief executive officer and president, Burger King Corporation. "Our new guidelines and audits are the right thing to do.''

Dasburg said that shortly after arriving in April, he asked the Burger King Corporation Animal Well-being Advisory Council to work with a team of Burger King Corporation executives to make specific recommendations on how the company can ensure that its suppliers are handling food animals as humanely as possible.

The Council is comprised of nationally and internationally recognized experts in the field including Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University; Dr. Janice Swanson, Kansas State University; and Dr. David Fraser, The University of British Columbia. The team from Burger King Corporation included Chris Clouser, executive vice president and chief global marketing officer, Ben Hirst, executive vice president and chief legal counsel, Dr. Bruce Burnham, vice president supply chain management, Jose Cil, senior attorney, Rob Doughty, vice president, corporate communications, and Chet England, senior director, quality assurance.

Burger King Corporation is establishing animal handling verification guidelines for all cattle and swine slaughterhouses based on the American Meat Institute's (AMI) Audit Program to assure compliance with these guidelines. BKC is also establishing animal handling verification guidelines for all poultry slaughterhouses based on the National Chicken Council's (NCC) guidelines. These measures will be audited through the poultry audit program created by the Burger King Corporation Advisory Council. Both sets of verification guidelines will be ready for auditing commencing August 31, 2001.

Initial audits of all cattle, swine and poultry slaughterhouses that supply raw materials to the BURGER KING® system will begin by October 31, 2001 and be completed no later than June 30, 2002. These audits will determine which suppliers will be approved to supply the BURGER KING® system based on the supplier's actual food safety and animal handling practices. Additionally, unannounced audits of approved suppliers together with audits conducted by Dr. Temple Grandin will be undertaken to ensure compliance beginning August 2002.

Burger King Corporation will adopt, and in some cases exceed, the United Egg Producers (UEP) Scientific Advisory Committee's recommended guidelines for laying hens. These recommendations clarify the UEP producer guidelines endorsed earlier this year by Burger King Corporation in four main areas including cage space per bird, forced molting, air quality and beak trimming.

With respect to cage space, the UEP's Scientific Advisory Committee recommended a minimum of 72 square inches of usable floor space per bird in chicken cages. Burger King Corporation will exceed this requirement and mandate a minimum of 75 square inches of usable floor space per bird. Burger King Corporation will also require two water drinkers per cage to ensure a constant supply of water and the cages will have conveyor feed systems to ensure continuous access to fresh feed for the birds. Additionally, Burger King Corporation will require that the birds be able to stand fully upright in the entire cage floor space. Each of these actions clarifies or enhances existing guidelines and must be accomplished by March 31, 2002.

Burger King Corporation will require that a ban on water and feed restricted forced molting be enforced no later than March 31, 2002.

Burger King Corporation will adopt air quality guidelines that require that the ammonia concentration to which birds are exposed not exceed 25 parts per million, daily average over any consecutive seven day period. All suppliers to the BURGER KING® system will be expected to be in compliance with this requirement by March 31, 2002. BKC and its suppliers will monitor and evaluate advances in ventilation for possible adoption in the future. These air quality guidelines exceed current industry standards.

Burger King Corporation discourages the practice of beak trimming and encourages poultry producers to breed less aggressive laying hens that require little or no beak trimming. If beak trimming is necessary to control aggressive pecking, the producer must follow UEP Scientific Committee guidelines, which mandate that only trained personnel conduct the beak trimming and that it must be done before the chicks are ten days old. Suppliers to the Burger King system will be required to submit a beak trimming protocol to Burger King Corporation for approval by September 30, 2001.

Burger King Corporation already prohibits its beef suppliers from using meat from non-ambulatory cattle, cattle that are afflicted with advanced ocular neoplasia or cattle that are extremely emaciated. To further encourage the humane treatment of cattle, Burger King Corporation will require that its suppliers not actively procure any cattle in such condition.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) has agreed with Burger King Corporation's request to upgrade their guidelines to include more specific, measurable performance criteria. The NCC has informed BKC that it intends to initiate these new specifications expeditiously. At the same time, BKC will work with its Animal Well-being Advisory Council to develop auditing procedures for the handling of broilers. These auditing procedures will be completed by July 1, 2002.

"We thank the National Chicken Council for agreeing so quickly to address our request for more specificity for their existing guidelines,'' said Dasburg.

Burger King Corporation discourages the practices of branding and wattling of cattle, as well as the severe ear notching of cattle. Should branding be absolutely necessary, it should be done only once and never on the face of the animal.

The company requires that all dehorning and castration of animals be accomplished before their arrival at stocking operations or feedlots and the animals must be healed fully prior to transport to the lot or stocking operation. Further, castration of animals must be done in accordance with generally accepted scientific and medical practices.

In the area of sow gestation stalls, Burger King Corporation will encourage and support the development of a body of scientific knowledge around the handling of gestating sows. This effort may include identifying and studying pork production facilities that have already instituted alternative procedures for the handling and care of gestating sows. Burger King will also begin purchasing pork from producers employing these alternatives successfully as a way of supporting the creation of this body of knowledge.

Burger King Corporation will also monitor developments in the areas of genetics, thermal comfort of animals, air quality of animals in enclosed environments, emergency procedures for failure of automated systems used in the production of food animals, on-farm euthanasia methods and improving the manner by which animals are transported. The company will encourage the adoption of appropriate, science-based improvements in any of these areas if they promise to result in more humane conditions for food animals.

"We want to acknowledge the constructive guidance, based on decades of study and research, that the Animal Well-being Council members have shared with Burger King Corporation. We will continue to work with them to monitor advancements in this field,'' Dasburg said.

"We also want to thank the many suppliers to the Burger King system who have worked closely with us on refining these guidelines,'' Dasburg said. "They have demonstrated an openness and willingness to do the right thing expeditiously.''

Additionally, Burger King Corporation announced that beginning July 1, 2002 it will publish an annual report on the Handling of Food Animals for the Burger King® System. The company said that it is preparing a new website on animal handling and will include this annual report on that site at the appropriate time.

While these animal handling practices and audits are designed to be implemented in the U.S. and Canada, Burger King Corporation will require the application of equivalent standards within its non-U.S. markets in a timely and appropriate fashion. All food animal-handling guidelines and audits will be evaluated within the context of each country's existing regulatory and statutory framework prior to the development of enhanced standards.