McDonald’s fails to serve up happy deal for chickens

January 22 2018

Iconic food brands like Burger King, Starbucks and Subway are improving life for chickens but a recent announcement from McDonald’s shows that it still has a way to go to keep up

When it comes to raising animal welfare standards, fast food isn’t the first place you might look for leadership.

Convenience, price and lack of consumer interest are common excuses used to sidestep the pressure to raise farm animals more responsibly.

But the ice has been thawing in recent years, and one company in particular – McDonald’s – has been a pioneer in some markets. 

Hitting chickens the hardest  

But not all McDonald’s meals are so happy, with chicken being a prime case in point. A lack of proper policy has meant that your chicken burger or nugget likely came from an animal that’s been bred to grow at breakneck speed, reaching slaughter weight in just 40 days, and grown in a cramped, barren warehouse.

Painful leg, heart and lung disorders, skin lesions, stress and early death are all on the menu for a factory-grown chicken.

Ignoring the big problems

We were initially thrilled to get the news that McDonald’s has committed to give better lives to chickens. The moves will be implemented by 2024, and according to McDonald's, 70 percent of the chickens in its global supply chain will have enrichments such as perches and pecking objects to promote important natural behavior and improve the animals’ mental and physical wellbeing. Furthermore, an improved pre-slaughter process (in the US and Canada) should reduce the amount of stress that the animals suffer at end of life.

Related: we’re also urging KFC to improve life for millions of chickens in its supply chain. Learn more about how factory grown chickens suffer and sign our petition.

While these improvements are certainly a step in the right direction, there are a number of improvements that McDonald’s is avoiding, such as giving chickens more space to move and using healthier breeds. Instead, McDonald's is promising to carry out more research. This will liekly delay the process to help poultry producers and breeding companies scale up faster.

Momentum is building

The reality is, what a chicken needs to live a decent life is already widely known. This includes: proper space to move; natural light; a varied, stimulating environment; and, crucially, to not inhabit a body that’s been bred to such extremes that it can be impossible to even support its own weight. The requirements are not too much to ask for. Especially when iconic brands such as Burger King, Starbucks and Subway, have all signed up to a clear, simple list of science-based asks, which have been developed by the world’s foremost animal organizations, including us.

Approximately 28 day old broiler chickens in a commercial indoor system

The commitments will make a profound difference to the lives of billions of chickens.

On the very same day that the McDonald’s news hit, global food giant, the Kraft Heinz Company, joined the group of forward-thinking companies in committing to meet our asks. Momentum is building and most companies don’t want to be left behind.

We look forward to the day when McDonald’s joins that group, which is surely only a matter of time.

For the moment, there is much left to be resolved. 

Painful leg, heart and lung disorders, skin lesions, stress and early death are all on the menu for a factory-grown chicken.

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