Industry News | October 30, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

McDonald's Elevates Chicken Welfare Standards

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Saying “healthy animals provide safe food,” Bruce Feinberg, the senior director at McDonald’s responsible for Global Quality Systems, wrote an article in Medium Friday outlining the fast food giant’s plan to improve animal welfare in its supply chain. Mainly, McDonald’s will require suppliers to follow new standards for raising and slaughtering chickens.

The updated guidelines require suppliers such as Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. to follow rules that dictate the amount of brightness of light in chicken houses, provide birds with access to perches, and take other steps to improve welfare, all by 2024, according to Reuters. Feinberg wrote McDonald’s is elevating its “global commitment to source chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes, adopting simple measures as indicators of how animals adapt [positively or negatively] to their environment.”

This is based on an eight-step program, designed with the goal of including outcome-based measures that provide McDonald’s with a “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,” he added.

Below is the full eight-step program, as outlined by McDonald’s in a press release.

Improved Farm-Level Welfare Outcomes: Source chickens for the McDonald’s System that are raised with improved welfare outcomes. We plan to set targets, measure performance and report on key farm-level welfare outcomes across our largest markets.

Innovative On-Farm Animal Health and Welfare Monitoring Technologies: Partner with technology companies, producers, and suppliers to develop on-farm monitoring systems to automate the gathering of key animal health and welfare indicators, including behavioral measures. Once established, these technologies will highlight potential areas for improvement in real time and will be among the first of their kind available at a commercial scale.

Natural Behavior: Require chickens to be raised in housing environments that promote natural behaviors such as pecking, perching and dust-bathing. These behaviors are encouraged through enrichments, such as the provision of perches and pecking objects, access to floor litter 100 percent of the time, and providing a minimum of 20 lux light intensity during photoperiods, with a minimum of 6 hours of darkness (4 hours to be continuous) during a 24 hour time period, reflecting scientific evidence from poultry experts.

Commercial Trials on Production Inputs: Conduct commercial trials across select markets in partnership with our largest global chicken suppliers to study the effect that various production parameters have on key welfare outcomes within large-scale, commercial conditions.  These trials will measure the effects of inputs such as lighting, stocking density (space allowance), and genetics. This will enable us to identify best practices that support improved farm welfare outcomes in specific climates across the globe.

Stunning: In the U.S. and Canada, transition to sourcing chickens that have been stunned by the use of Controlled Atmospheric Stunning (CAS), a method that is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). CAS is currently practiced by many approved suppliers for McDonald’s restaurants in Europe and Australia.

Accountability: Establish third party audits to ensure supplier’s farms are in compliance with McDonald’s new and more comprehensive chicken welfare standards.

Feasibility Study: Complete an assessment by the end of 2018 to measure the feasibility of extending these commitments to the remaining global markets where McDonald’s operates.

McDonald’s Advisory Council for Chicken Sustainability: Establish a global, multi-stakeholder Advisory Council focused on chicken sustainability, with participation from academics and scientists, suppliers and industry experts, animal welfare and environmental advocates to support our continued journey on chicken sustainability, inclusive of health and welfare.

Livestock researcher Temple Grandin, who works with McDonald's, called it “one of the most comprehensive programs that I've seen for chickens,” in the Medium article.