For years, Shake Shack has said its chicken is “hormone-free.” Now a shareholder is asking the fast casual to back up its claim with scientific proof.
The Accountability Board, a watchdog that tracks companies environmental, social, and governance performance, wants to vote on a resolution that asks Shake Shack to confirm its chicken is “100 percent hormone-free.” It also wants the chain to describe how its culinary innovation achieved the milestone and what the board’s oversight responsibilities are regarding hormone-free chicken sourcing. And if the fast casual cannot prove this, the Accountability Board wants an explanation as to why the restaurant has been using this descriptor and be provided an analysis about the impact of said claims.
Shake Shack moved to block the vote, citing that it’s “already substantially implemented the proposal” and that “the proposal is materially false and misleading.”
In a statement, a company spokesperson wrote, “We are changing the language to ‘no added hormones’ so it aligns with industry marketing standards. We are also not making any changes to our chicken suppliers or any of our supply chain and food policies – it is simply a language change.”
The Accountability Board argues the “hormone-free” label is misleading for two reasons.
Firstly, zero chicken produced or sold domestically has added hormones because that’s been illegal for decades. In fact, federal law requires that any poultry labels reading “no added hormones” must also show that “federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” So any chicken chain claiming “no added hormones” and touting it as a differentiator in the market, would be misleading its customers.
Secondly, all meat contains naturally occurring hormones, according to the Accountability Board. It cited a study entitled “Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A” that wrote “hormones cannot be completely avoided in food of animal origin, since they are part of animal metabolism.” Meaning, Shake Shack’s “hormone-free chicken” statement isn’t scientifically correct.
“Unless the company’s achieved the unlikely scientific advancement of eliminating naturally occurring hormones from chicken, any touting of ‘hormone-free’ chicken simply doesn’t make sense,” the Accountability Board said in a letter to fellow shareholders. “Yet company executives and Board members have repeatedly—and for years—signed off on these claims.”
The Accountability Board said Shake Shack has been describing its chicken as “100 percent hormone free” since at least 2015. In a tweet from nine years ago, Shake Shack responded to a user, saying “We have many suppliers in the US & all meet the highest quality standards—sustainably raised & 100% antibiotic & hormone free.” Another social media post in 2019 said, “Did ya know our Chick’n Shack is made from all-natural cage-free crispy chicken breast, with no hormones or antibiotics EVER?” Additionally, the brand’s press releases, nutritional information document, and allergen guide all say the chicken is without hormones.