McDonald’s Global Chicken Health and Welfare Strategy
August 19, 2022
McDonald’s Broiler Welfare Approach: Part of A Holistic Chicken Sustainability Strategy
Serving safe, quality food relies on animals that are properly cared for throughout their lives. At McDonald’s, we believe we have a responsibility to improve the health and welfare of animals in our supply chain. When it comes to chicken, a fan favorite around the world, our approach to sourcing and animal care balances the welfare of the chicken, environmental impact, and the importance of having a resilient and responsible broiler industry.
One of our core principles at McDonald’s is to continually challenge ourselves and our suppliers to drive improvements. This is reflected in our chicken sustainability strategy, which is based on balancing scientifically robust indicators across animal welfare, human health and the environment. We understand that we must set a high bar to help drive a more sustainable and progressive industry.
A Commitment to More Sustainable Chicken Farming
For example, McDonald’s has a commitment to reduce carbon emissions intensity by 31% by 2030. We are working with suppliers and stakeholders to leverage opportunities to help achieve that commitment. We also have requirements on how we source soy used in chicken feed to support a deforestation-free supply chain. And we are committed to doing our part to preserve antibiotic effectiveness for future generations by eliminating the use of antibiotics defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HPCIAs) to human medicine from all chicken served by the end of 2027.
We turned this approach into measurable, timely action in 2017, when we announced a global commitment to source chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes. To achieve this goal, we set eight broiler welfare commitments in 14 of our key markets. These are aimed at positively impacting more than 70 percent of our chicken supply and are expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2024.
These commitments address specific progress areas within broiler welfare, driven by intricately connected actions built to complement one another and provide a platform for continuous improvement. And since setting these commitments, we’ve seen tremendous progress. Below, learn more about each commitment, and what we’ve accomplished thus far.
Leveraging Expert Guidance to Drive Critical Data Collection
To put our Broiler Welfare Strategy into action, we set an initial commitment to establish our McDonald’s Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council (CSAC), consisting of genetics experts, farm management consultants such as FAI Farms, leading academics, and researchers, such as Dr. Temple Grandin, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including World Wildlife Fund. Since this group’s formation in 2018, we’ve made impactful strides in implementing and evolving our chicken welfare.
This evolution has been informed through our commitment to measuring key farm-level welfare outcomes. In 2019, the CSAC helped to define 15 globally aligned farm- and process-level key welfare indicators (KWIs) for chicken. System-wide measurement against these indicators started in January 2021, and in that first year provided information on over 2 billion birds.
In addition to defining these KWIs, we’ve not only been able to collect extensive data, but we’ve also taken action on our commitment to developing state-of-the-art welfare automated measurement technology, investing nearly $2 million into our SMART (Sensing, Monitoring, Analysis, Reporting Technology) Broiler initiative to automate gathering welfare and behavioral indicators. This year, with the conclusion of Phase 1, we are happy to announce that we’ve selected three research projects to move into Phase 2 of development, which will run through 2023. These technologies are among the first of their kind proposed for commercial availability and will help McDonald’s identify opportunities for improvement in broiler welfare.
Prioritizing Natural Behaviors For Broiler Chickens
Identifying ways to best care for McDonald’s chickens is a key piece of our holistic strategy. This comes to life through our commitment to provide enrichments to support natural behavior, such as pecking, roosting, and dustbathing, as well as standards for lighting. Over the past two years, an Enrichments & Lighting Working Group, made up of McDonald’s CSAC members, developed Enrichment & Lighting Guidelines for implementation by our suppliers, which will offer our birds environments that promote and encourage the expression of natural behaviors. These include: (1) roosting and elevation; (2) pecking; (3) foraging, scratching, and dustbathing; and (4) seeking cover and shelter.
Identifying Opportunities for Continuous Improvement
We achieved our commitment around conducting commercial trials to study the effects of certain production parameters - such as breed and stocking density – on welfare, behavior, environmental, and economic outcomes. The results of these science-led, data driven efforts indicate that changing breed and stocking density variables could have direct and significant environmental impacts such as GHG emissions and Land Use change.
These trials were also crucial for informing our KWI target-setting approach, which helps drive continuous welfare improvement throughout our supply chain. Through this process, suppliers are ranked in performance peer groups that will inform timebound improvement goals to advance to the next highest peer group, in a way that encourages innovative and thoughtful action. These insights are key to ensuring our chicken welfare efforts are mutually beneficial to our birds, suppliers, and the planet at large.
Our commitments are rounded out by significant efforts to continually evolve and adapt our practices to address broiler welfare in real time.
We also remain steadfast in our commitment to improving the health and welfare of animals in our supply chain throughout their lives, including prioritizing humane slaughter practices. Our commitment to utilizing Controlled Atmospheric Stunning (CAS) in the U.S. and Canada is well underway, with 100% of our Canadian broiler facilities converted to CAS. CAS is recognized to be highly humane for the animal, while also ensuring better conditions for workers. McDonald’s was one of the first retailers to implement a CAS system into a U.S. broiler supply chain, and we’re proud that CAS is also practiced by many approved suppliers for McDonald’s restaurants in Europe and Australia.
We have initiated a process to define and then implement a third-party, on-farm auditing protocol by the end of 2024. Additionally, our commitment to complete an assessment to measure the feasibility of extending these commitments to additional global markets where McDonald’s operates is currently underway, helping us to understand chicken welfare on an ever-expanding scale and where we can make the greatest impact.
Responsible Antibiotic Use in Chickens
Alongside our Broiler Welfare Strategy, we maintain our longstanding commitment to responsible antibiotic use, doing our part to help preserve its effectiveness for future generations. We are on track to eliminate the use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HPCIAs) in the global poultry supply chain for all in-scope markets by 2027, and total antibiotic use within our global poultry supply chain has been reduced 47% since 2019.
A Collaborative Effort
As we work toward reaching our goal to achieve all eight broiler welfare commitments by the end of 2024, we recognize these efforts are part of a larger movement in support of animal welfare, driven by powerful synergy and connection. We work with our global network of suppliers to actively encourage industry and cross-sector collaboration and engage recognized subject-matter experts to access guidance and challenge the way we think. Taking a whole-system approach that considers everything from housing to humane slaughter, we leverage our global scale in local markets to help drive positive outcomes.
We are inspired by what we’ve accomplished thus far, together, and look forward to continued innovation in caring for McDonald’s birds across the world in the future.
For more information on McDonald’s robust Broiler Welfare Strategy and our progress to date, please see here.