Holding Fast Food Accountable For Chickens
Chicken welfare is a daunting problem that continues to loom over the animal agriculture industry. While chickens aren’t the only animals who live in gruesome conditions and suffer from health problems, the sheer number of farmed chickens is dramatically higher than other farmed animals, such as cows or pigs. Given that much of the demand for chicken products is fueled by global fast food chains, advocates would do well to target these businesses with chicken welfare campaigns.
In 2021, World Animal Protection published the third edition of “The Pecking Order,” a report measuring the progress of eight global fast food businesses in terms of their chicken welfare efforts: Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Subway. The report also breaks down the results by region and country, drawing from North America, Europe, Oceania, Asia, and Africa, and shows how each company and region has improved since the first Pecking Order report three years ago.
World Animal Protection scores each company based on the “Better Chicken Commitment” (BCC). While the standards vary slightly by region, the BCC requires committed companies to agree to a number of welfare requirements. For example, 100% of chickens in the supply chain cannot be housed in caging or multi-tier systems, and chickens must have adequate time to roam and be outside. Furthermore, the companies must avoid pre-stun handling before slaughter, agree to controlled atmosphere stunning slaughter methods, and comply with independent, third-party auditors. In short, the BCC tries to commit companies and consumers to the ideal of “eat better meat, eat less meat.”
Since the last edition of The Pecking Order, some companies and regions have made substantial progress, while others lag behind. In promising news, some companies have started offering a variety of meat-free options on their menus and taking impactful steps to embrace sustainability. Nevertheless, the report also shows there is still a “clear and unacceptable lack of action” to protect chicken welfare, which is especially the case in countries outside of North America and Europe. In other words, global fast food businesses are not consistently and universally making changes in all markets. Because developing countries are likely to be major drivers of meat consumption in the coming years, such improvements must be evenly distributed if we want to make a difference for chickens.
So, which companies are doing the best? Globally, KFC scores the highest and has improved from the fifth-highest tier (“Poor”) to the third-highest tier (“Making Progress”) since 2019. With the exception of Domino’s, the remaining companies are ranked in the fourth tier, or “Getting Started.” A standout point of the report is Domino’s disappointing tier six (“Very Poor”) ranking. It’s the only company in this bottom tier, scoring only 12% out of 100% (compared to KFC’s 59%). However, this 12% score only applies to Domino’s businesses in Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Domino’s other global businesses score 0%, including their operations in the U.S. and U.K. More encouragingly, KFC and McDonald’s scored additional points for not only making corporate commitments and setting target dates, but also for publicly reporting on their progress. As global leaders in the fast food industry, KFC and McDonald’s can lead the charge toward important market pushes for higher chicken welfare. The report notes, however, that McDonald’s has yet to commit to the BCC in any of its global markets.
In terms of regions and countries, North America and Europe are making more progress than other markets. This is likely because both of these regions have a history of corporate progress on animal welfare, which sets a precedent and makes it easier to continue making changes. Consumers in North America and Europe are also more aware of the problems associated with factory farming, are generally more willing to bear the cost of welfare improvements, and potentially have more freedom to protest the status quo. Finally, advocacy groups in these regions may have more freedom to expose the unsustainable and inhumane nature of the animal agriculture industry. Regardless of the reasons for regional disparities in chicken welfare, improvements should not be exclusive to European and North American markets. Increasingly, people everywhere expect global companies to make serious commitments to animal welfare and sustainability.
Overall, The Pecking Order 2021 offers a cautiously optimistic picture of the future of chicken welfare in global, corporate supply chains. While there is still much room for improvement, World Animal Protection outlines clear, measurable standards that companies can incorporate into their practices. Such incremental changes are often easier to achieve, and they can make a positive difference while advocates continue to push for an animal-free food system.