Calling foul on McDonald’s new chicken welfare policy

October 27, 2017

Over the past year, a new set of welfare policies has inspired meaningful progress for farm animals. Some of the largest US food service companies and fast food restaurants are heeding consumer demand for specific improvements in the way chickens raised for meat are treated.

However, industry giant McDonald's today issued its own policy that can only be characterized as a hollow nod to animal welfare and a reversal of concern for the well-being of farm animals.

The behemoth, which last year claimed a major role in helping pivot the US food supply away from eggs from caged hens with its public commitment to source only cage-free eggs, is now actively ignoring the most important welfare concerns of chickens raised for meat.

In its press release, you'll notice that not a single serious animal protection NGO has supported McDonald's policy; the company instead trumpets the support of its partners in agribusiness, Tyson and Cargill. While claiming to be "on a journey to build a better McDonald's," it's clear from its statement today that this is the same old McDonald's, committed only to maintaining the status quo of factory farming.

Fast food companies like Subway have already issued chicken welfare policies that proactively address the health of the birds on factory farms, the environment in which they are raised as well as methods of slaughter. The only meaningful issue the McDonald's policy addresses relates to the final moments of life.

We all agree that the way that the 9 billion chickens slaughtered each year in the US is undeniably cruel. Anyone with a strong enough stomach to watch footage of chicken slaughter would be hard-pressed to describe it as anything but gruesome.

Equally as dismal, however, is what happens beforehand. The chickens exploited by the industry are bred to grow unnaturally fast and grotesquely large. They are less than three months old before they reach what industry calls "slaughter weight." During their short lives, they eat with an insatiable hunger, gain weight quickly, and often suffer fatal health problems due to the inability of their organs and skeletal systems to keep up with their forced rapid growth.

Imagine being effectively trapped by the weight of your own body. Many of these birds have trouble walking and breathing—sometimes they cannot even reach water and die from thirst.

That's what McDonald's consumers are eating, and it's what McDonald's seems to believe is acceptable—both on the factory farm and on people's plates.

Even the birds who remain relatively healthy are miserable. They spend all their time in filthy windowless sheds with literally thousands of other birds. They have no way to express any natural behaviors like perching or scratching dirt, because there is no dirt. There is no sunlight, no bedding material and, as the birds grow bigger, successively less room for them to even move.

There is nothing natural at all about the way chickens live. People who have visited these facilities describe them as 'hell on earth.' The noise is deafening, the filth overwhelming and the atmosphere completely aberrant.

The Humane League believes McDonald's new policy is a deflection and an abdication of corporate responsibility. It does not adhere to the standards agreed to by other companies. Instead, McDonald's is using its size and influence to issue a policy that sounds good but lacks substance.

McDonald's has both the power and the moral obligation to do something meaningful. If you have power over millions of animals whose lives are defined by incessant and horrific cruelty, if you support practices that ensure that these animals are bred to suffer, doesn't it seem starkly disingenuous to pretend to care about the manner of their deaths?

We believe it is. We will not settle for a so-called welfare policy from McDonald's that effectively ignores quality of life. As a company that claims to listen to the concerns of its consumers about where their food comes from, McDonald's needs to do better. The Humane League will fight to reduce the enormous suffering the millions of chickens in McDonald's supply chain endure on factory farms every day.

Through our 88% Campaign, The Humane League is actively working to create change for the billions of chickens that needlessly suffer the worst cruelties in factory farming only to end up on people's plates.