The pecking order

| 17th January 2019
Battery farmed chickens
Wikimedia
Fast food chains ignore chicken welfare to fuel profits, new report finds.

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The world’s biggest fast-food chains have been placed under the spotlight by a new welfare report from the charity World Animal Protection. And no company receives a grade better than ‘poor’.

The Pecking Order 2018 ­report is the first-ever international ranking on the welfare of chickens raised for meat. Burger King, Domino’s Pizza Group, Domino’s Inc, KFC, McDonalds, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Subway have all been assessed.

The results are deeply concerning: not one of the companies is taking this critical issue seriously.

Animal welfare

World Animal Protection has launched the ranking as part of its Change for Chickens campaign, which is challenging the fast-food industry to stop the cruelty and suffering in chicken production worldwide by committing to source from higher-welfare farms rather than factory farms.

Companies are assessed through publicly available information on three areas: Interest, via policies (how important the welfare of chickens is to the company); ambition, via objectives and targets (the promises a company has made to improve chickens’ lives); and transparency, via performance reporting (how clear the company is about living up to its promises).

Key findings 

Alarmingly, none of the fast-food chains have a global policy on improving chicken welfare. In most areas, chickens are not even guaranteed a humane slaughter.

Only three of the nine companies – Burger King, Starbucks and Subway ­– have demonstrated interest and ambition in addressing the main problems faced by factory farmed chickens. However, the commitments are all limited to one region or country;

Two companies – Domino’s Inc. and Domino’s PLC - receive a ‘failing’ grade. Four companies – KFC, Nando’s, Pizza Hut and McDonalds - receive a ‘very poor’ grade.

Transparency is universally poor, with all companies providing little or no information to show how they are performing when it comes to chicken welfare.

Policy changes

World Animal Protection’s Change for Chickens campaign urges the fast food industry to commit to global policy changes that will improve the welfare of billions of chickens. In particular, companies are expected to:

Use chicken breeds that grow at a healthier rate; ensure that chickens have the space to behave more naturally. Cages must never be used; give chickens the opportunity to enjoy natural behaviours via enrichment – including perches or platforms and pecking objects – natural lighting and high-quality bedding and ensure that chickens are slaughtered using more humane methods that avoid live shackling and render all animals unconscious before slaughter.

Increasing pressure

Currently, it’s estimated that 40 billion chickens around the world each year are subjected to significant cruelty and suffering in factory farms.

They are given around 40 days to live until they are slaughtered. In that time, in many countries they live in crowded, barren, dark warehouses. Grown with little consideration for them as living, breathing, inquisitive animals, they are genetically selected to develop unnaturally fast, which places huge pressure on their heart, lungs and legs. As a result, they often live their entire lives in chronic pain, suffering from lameness, skin lesions and even heart failure.

Food companies that continue to turn a blind eye to this cruelty are under increasing pressure to change their ways.

World Animal Protection will review The Pecking Order every year to monitor the progress of the major fast-food brands. The organisation hopes that future iterations of the ranking will highlight companies that are truly leading the way when it comes to improving chicken welfare.

Jonty Whittleton, global campaign head at World Animal Protection said: “The scores are in and it’s not looking good for some of the world’s largest fast-food brands when it comes to chicken welfare.

These iconic companies must respond to growing consumer concerns over chicken cruelty, using their immense power to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of animals. Using tools such as The Pecking Order, we will continue to put pressure on these companies to change for chickens.”

Consumer concern

Whittleton continued: “There is no excuse for the pain, fear and stress that a factory farmed chicken feels for much of their life.

"Billions of chickens never get the chance to see sunlight, to grow at a natural rate or behave as they would do in the wild. Major brands, including those featured in The Pecking Order, profit from this pain.

"hey hold the power to turn this situation around and there is a growing consumer concern that they must do so. Chickens are at the very heart of their businesses and deserve the chance to live a happier, healthier life. That’s not too much to ask.”

This Author 

Marianne Brooker is a commissioning editor for The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from World Animal Protection. Read the full report here

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