McDonald’s Invests in Happy Chicken Initiative

by | Mar 27, 2018

The announcement that McDonald’s is establishing a Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council comes at a time when the fast-food chain seems to be making a serious run at Chick-fil-A, indicating that sustainable chicken may be a key part of its growth strategy. McDonald’s said that it is “taking the next important step in our chicken sustainability strategy and global chicken welfare commitments” with the new Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council, a group that includes advisors like FAI Farms, academics, researchers, NGO’s, and the World Wildlife Fund. The council will provide guidance for the welfare outcomes McDonald’s plans to promote across its global supply chain, writes Dr. Nicola Robinson, McDonald’s senior manager for global sustainability on a company blog.

While the company says it will take meaningful action in terms of the welfare of its birds, the timing of the announcement comes just a month after internal company documents, obtained by Bloomberg News, state that one of the company’s top priorities is becoming a “credible chicken player.”

“It’s definitely a transformational era for McDonald’s,” said Jason Moser, an analyst at Motley Fool (via Bloomberg). “Chicken is part of that.”


Importance of Pecking, Perching & Dust Bathing

A number of elements that contribute to a good quality of life for chickens have long been established from an academic perspective, but the fast food giant admits that embracing those elements across a global supply chain will take some work to make it commercially applicable.

The elements of the company’s sustainable chicken strategy – animal health and welfare, antibiotic stewardship, and sustainable chicken feed – are goals that McDonald’s will require its producers and suppliers to meet. However, they will be free to develop their own tailored solutions to meeting those targets. Such a flexible approach is crucial for tackling some of the most urgent challenges in sustainable food product, such as minimizing the significant tradeoffs that occur between higher welfare systems and environmental impacts, the company says.

McDonald’s says it will require its chickens to be raised in housing environments that promote natural behaviours such as pecking, perching and dust-bathing, on or before 2024.


Facing Off with the Other Chicken Joint?

In recent years, McDonald’s has already taken steps to improve the quality of its birds with initiatives such as serving it without antibiotics and removing artificial preservatives from nuggets. Mickey D’s also launched southern-style sandwiches, coated in a crispy buttermilk breading similar to that used by Chick-fil-A, Bloomberg writes.

While McDonald’s wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the documents acquired by Bloomberg, a spokesperson for the company said McDonald’s is committed to generating “even more excitement” around its core menu items, including its chicken offerings.


Ensuring a Sustainable Supply of Chickens

As the world seeks to reconcile food production with the environmental limits of a finite planet, it is the responsibility of all companies to ensure that “production systems meet the welfare needs of food animal species, whilst protecting the ecological systems that sustain us all,” Robinson wrote.

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