Debate over McDonald’s chicken welfare policy shows how restaurant chains shape US food production

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March 25, 2018 11:00 am Published by

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson, a west suburban mother of two young girls, takes her family to McDonald’s semiregularly because it’s an indulgence they all enjoy.

But she’s put those trips on hold for now. Knott-Dawson plans to launch an online petition this week in coordination with the nonprofit Compassion in World Farming to urge McDonald’s to switch to different breeds of chickens that would have an improved quality of life. The campaign also encourages McDonald’s to give the birds more space.

“I care about basic dignity for these animals. It’s just not right,” said Knott-Dawson, 39.

In total, eight animal welfare charities, including groups like the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are turning up the pressure on McDonald’s, a national effort that offers a glimpse into the larger debate about how chickens are farmed in the U.S., and the role that major food chains play in shaping that debate.

Grandin said she believes in the company’s intentions to improve welfare.

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“All I’m going to say about McDonald’s (chicken welfare policy) is that it’s a very good first step and Rome wasn’t built in a day,” said Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

Animal welfare groups are not satisfied with McDonald’s commitments so far.

“Agreeing to study something is the hallmark of doing nothing,” said David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League. “Study needs to be paired with a meaningful commitment.”

Studies have found that many fast-growing broiler chickens have difficulty walking because their legs and joints can’t support the rapid weight gain. One 2008 study assessed the walking ability of 51,000 broiler chickens and found that more than 27 percent showed poor mobility.

The animal welfare groups are calling on McDonald’s and other companies to transition by 2024 to breeds of birds approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, an animal welfare charity based in the United Kingdom, or the Global Animal Partnership, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit launched but no longer directly funded by Whole Foods Market.

The groups also are asking for more space per bird than described in tnational guidelines established by the National Chicken Council.

Other animal welfare groups calling on McDonald’s to take bolder steps regarding chicken welfare include Animal Equality, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals and World Animal Protection.

Though united in this cause, the groups operate differently. Some — like The Humane League and Mercy for Animals — are more grass-roots groups known for in-your-face tactics. Others, like Compassion in World Farming and the Humane Society of the United States, work with corporations in boardrooms to influence policy and effect change.

In recent years, McDonald’s has worked hand-in-hand with some of those groups in crafting animal welfare policies, such as when committing to ending the use of gestation crates for pigs in the U.S. and sourcing eggs only from cage-free hens in the U.S. and Canada.

But the company has shifted toward developing global policies — a vexing development for animal welfare charities hoping to see swifter change in the U.S. poultry industry.

“This has been such a disappointing process because we have previously made such historic announcements together,” said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society.

Twitter @GregTrotterTrib


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