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McDonald's reveals new chicken welfare standards

McDonald’s Corp. has announced it will start requiring some of its suppliers to follow new standards related to how the chickens served in its restaurants are raised and slaughtered.

McDonald’s Corp. announced Oct. 27 that it will start requiring its suppliers to follow new standards for raising and slaughtering chickens served in its restaurants in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. The new standards are set to take effect by 2024.

Under the new guidelines, suppliers must comply with rules dictating the amount and brightness of light in chicken houses as well as provide birds with improved housing, including access to perches and such that promote natural behavior.

From a lighting standpoint, the company will seek for suppliers to provide 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 period.

The company said it will be partnering 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.

McDonald’s also said it will be conducting commercial trials across select markets in partnership with its 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, and enable McDonald’s to identify best practices that support improved farm welfare outcomes in specific climates across the globe.

In the U.S. and Canada, the company said it will transition to sourcing chickens that have been stunned by the use of controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS), a practice used by many of its approved suppliers in Europe and Australia.

Additionally, McDonald’s plans to establish third party audits to ensure supplier’s farms are in compliance with its new and more comprehensive chicken welfare standards, complete an assessment by the end of 2018 to measure the feasibility of extending these new commitments to the remaining global markets where McDonald’s operates and 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.

Animal activists said the mandates fall short of commitments made by other restaurants, such as Burger King and sandwich chain Subway, and fail to address their primary concern about chicken production, which are birds bred to grow quickly to large sizes. They said they would like to see the chain commit to buying meat from breeds that “grow slowly enough to protect chickens’ health.”

Most recently McDonald’s also announced it would stop buying chicken meat for its U.S. restaurants from birds raised with antibiotics deemed important to human health and said it would shift to using cage-free eggs in the U.S and Canada.

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