Seven food and retail companies including Nestlé USA, Aramark, Compass Group, Panera Bread, Shake Shack, Sodexo and Target have formed the US Working Group for Broiler Welfare. The group aims to help other brands meet the Better Chicken Commitment — baseline welfare standards for meat chickens created in 2014 by Compassion in World Farming.
Facilitated by Compassion in World Farming and Blue House Sustainability Consulting, the working group will develop strategies for transitioning supply chains through the Better Chicken standards. More than 200 food brands in the U.S. have committed to adopt the standards, including General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Unilever, Hormel and Conagra.
- Recent reports have said global food brands are not doing enough to address animal welfare concerns in their supply chains. The broiler chicken working group demonstrates another industry effort at tackling the issue, as consumers have shown greater interest in learning more about how the food they consume was raised.
Efforts to improve transparency in animal agriculture have shed light on some of the commonly used practices in broiler production, including breeding chickens for size, high-density confinement and constant exposure to artificial lighting.
Meanwhile, food manufacturers have been accused of being part of the problem. In a recent study, World Animal Protection and Compassion in World Farming concluded that 59 food brands provided little or no information on their animal welfare practices, while 31 had no welfare-related framework at all.
As consumers question these practices, food companies have increasingly looked to partner with animal welfare groups for guidance. The more than 200 companies that have signed on to the Better Chicken Commitment aim to embrace standards throughout their supply chains that address breed selection, space allocation, environmental enrichments, slaughter method and third-party auditing, with target dates beginning in 2024.
In 2017, Nestlé announced it would source all of its broiler chickens used as ingredients in its food from suppliers that adhere to higher animal welfare standards by 2024. This includes transitioning to chicken breeds that have slower growth rates and reducing stocking density.
Hormel's Applegate brand has also committed to improve its standards for broiler chickens throughout its supply chain by 2024. This includes offering better lighting and litter quality, providing birds with enough space for natural behaviors and requiring suppliers to participate in third-party auditing to track their progress.
Food companies have also been partnering with animal welfare groups for guidance on the issue. Conagra committed to higher welfare standards for its broilers in partnership with the Human Society of the United States. Perdue Farms announced plans in 2017 to dramatically improve conditions for chickens after video footage from the group Mercy for Animals showed animal cruelty at one of its facilities. Perdue and Mercy for Animals eventually joined forces to address welfare-related concerns.
The effort to improve broiler welfare is timely in light of ongoing legislative efforts to require suppliers to change how animals are raised. Passed in 2018, California's Proposition 12 requires all eggs sold in the state to be sourced from cage-free hens, and bans the sale of pork and veal if animal housing does not meet new minimum size requirements. The law, which goes into effect in 2022, recently survived a legal challenge from the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. It does not, however, address broiler chickens.