Sustainability Watch: McDonald’s Raises the Bar on Chicken Welfare


McDonald's farmer

McDonald’s is staking a claim to become an industry pioneer for animal health and welfare in its supply chain. The company has disclosed its upgraded sustainability commitment to improve the conditions for chickens in its supply chain by requiring suppliers to follow higher standards for raising and slaughtering the birds. It cut ties with a poultry farmer supplier, a Tyson Foods contractor, in 2015 accused of cruelty.

Now, some might argue that these steps make little difference because the chickens’ ultimate destination will be as a serving of McNuggets or other McDonald’s menu item. But McDonald’s brand stewards know that to a growing number of their customers, especially millennials and the Generation Z-ers following them, ethical animal welfare standards are an important factor in brand consideration.

The company already stipulates that “for the chicken we offer on our global menus, we do not accept any chickens raised in caged housing systems. 100 percent of chickens used for meat in our global supply chain are required to be reared only in cage-free systems.” That commitment set off a “stampede” of others following suit, Fortune notes.

McDonald’s new eight-step program includes measures such as broad monitoring and improvement of conditions on chicken farms, housing environments that promote natural behaviors such as pecking and perching and access to floor litter, more sunlight and a more humane method of stunning the chickens for slaughter.

In this way, wrote Bruce Feinberg, a Senior Director at McDonald’s responsible for Global Quality Systems for chicken, beef, pork, fish and dairy products, wrote in Medium, McDonald’s is elevating its “global commitment to source chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes, adopting simple measures as indicators of how animals adapt [positively or negatively] to their environment.”