Panera Bread announced this week its intention to initiate an industry-wide effort to improve the welfare of broiler chickens by 2024, becoming the first fast food chain to do so. The company also shared progress on animal welfare issues and the reduced use of antibiotics across its U.S. Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread Co. bakery-cafe menus. The latest announcement comes as no surprise considering some of the company’s stakeholders are prominent animal rights organizations.
The company said it is aligning its broiler chicken policy with the Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) Broiler Chicken Standard.
“Going forward, we will work with animal welfare experts, growers, suppliers, competitors and other market participants to identify cost-effective solutions for our industry,” the company said.
With help of other market participants, the company hopes to achieve the following across the restaurant industry by 2024:
- Use new slower growing broiler breeds recognized as having higher welfare outcomes
- Provide birds more space (reduced stocking density)
- Offer improved environments, including litter, lighting and enrichment
- Ensure birds are rendered unconscious using multi-step controlled atmospheric stunning
“We started 13 years ago with chicken raised without antibiotics because we believed that a national restaurant company could use size and scale to affect change in the marketplace,” said Ron Shaich, chief executive officer and founder of Panera Bread. “Our journey to reduce antibiotics has taught us that truly transformational change requires moves by many stakeholders. It is our hope that leadership by companies like Panera will continue to be a catalyst for animal welfare across the industry.”
Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy at Panera added, “As a restaurant serving more than 10 million people a week, we have the platform and purchasing power to encourage positive changes in animal welfare practices. We also have a responsibility to the farmers and ranchers who care for these animals. They have been essential partners over the years and we respect the investments they will need to make as we work together to find economically viable and sustainable models that lead to higher welfare birds.
Animal welfare update
Panera said 2016 marked the first year where 100% of poultry on sandwiches and salads were raised without antibiotics. The company introduced RWA deli turkey in September 2016, making 100% of the chicken and turkey on our sandwiches and salads raised without antibiotics and vegetarian fed. “This means 86% of our poultry supply, or approximately 34 million pounds, met these standards,” the company added.
In regards to pork, the company said 100% of bacon, breakfast sausage and ham, 7.7 million pounds, served on sandwiches and salad was raised without antibiotics and was gestation crate free. This represents more than 93% of the company’s total pork supply.
The company said 95% of beef was grass fed, free range in 2016, up from 89% in 2015.
The company continues to increase the use of cage-free eggs, as well. In 2016, 16% of all 120 million eggs were cage free.
“In 2016, 28% of the 70 million shell eggs used on sandwiches and salads were cage-free, up from 21% in 2015. Panera has also extended the commitment to be cage-free to all Canadian bakery-cafe food menus by 2025.”
A number of the company’s animal rights organization stakeholders applauded the announcement.
“When it comes to chickens, Panera is leading the pack—not only are they doing the right thing for their business, they’re doing the right thing for animals,” Leah Garces, U.S. executive director for Compassion in World Farming. “We commend this commitment, which is a signal to the entire restaurant sector that demand for higher welfare is not going away and now is the time to take action. Panera is the first national restaurant company to step up, and we are confident that others will soon follow their example.”
Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States said the announcement will vastly improve the lives of broiler chickens in the company’s supply chain. “We applaud the company for moving forward on this issue that’s quickly gaining importance within the food industry and among consumers.”
Animal rights groups The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, World Animal Protection and The Humane League also applauded the company’s commitment.