We might be famous for our beef burgers, but we care just as much about the chicken we serve. From cutting antibiotic use to preserve their effectiveness for human health to sourcing chickens with improved welfare outcomes, we’re committed to ensuring a sustainable supply of one of our most popular ingredients.
Why it matters
Food made with quality ingredients is one of our top priorities, and part of our vision to source all of our food sustainably. That’s why for more than a decade we’ve been working with suppliers, animal welfare organizations, scientists and industry experts on our chicken sustainability journey.
While we don’t raise chickens ourselves, the health and welfare of the chickens in our supply chain is important to us. This is why we’re committed to sourcing chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes. In light of the possible impact on antibiotic resistance in humans, which is increasingly recognized as an important societal issue, we require the responsible use of antibiotics in our chicken supply chain.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that meat production – including chicken, pork and beef – will need to more than double by 2050 (pdf, 627KB) and global animal feed production will have to increase by 70% (pdf, 5.6MB) if we are to meet the growing population’s demands. Unless action is taken to make production more sustainable, this elevated demand will increase the risk of environmental and ethical issues. For example, chicken feed currently uses a lot of soy, and converting land to grow soy is widely believed to be a major cause of deforestation. Feed production on existing cropland also provides challenges, such as preserving soil health and reducing the impact of fertilizers.
We are committed to taking a holistic, outcomes-based approach to chicken sustainability: from antibiotics to welfare to feed sustainability. We believe the innovation and flexibility that this approach will unlock are crucial for tackling some of the long-standing challenges in sustainable chicken production.
On this page:
As there are no broadly accepted standards for chicken sustainability, we’ve been working with stakeholders across the industry to define what it means. For more than a decade, we have been on a journey (pdf, 9.3MB) with our suppliers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academics and industry experts to advance the sustainability of the chicken served at McDonald’s restaurants.
We’re prioritizing the most impactful areas of chicken sustainability and setting goals and a roadmap for action, which are further detailed below:
- Animal health and welfare.
- Antibiotic stewardship.
- Sustainable chicken feed.
Our chicken sustainability work supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, specifically:
- Goal 2 – Zero hunger (specifically target 2.4).
- Goal 12 – Responsible consumption (specifically target 12.2).
- Goal 15 – Life on land (specifically targets 15.1 and 15.2).
- Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals (specifically target 17.16).
As well as these, we’ve mapped our Scale for Good initiatives to all 17 goals.
Responsible use of antibiotics
Building on our 2003 Global Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship in Food Animals, starting in 2018 we began to implement a new broiler chicken antibiotics policy in markets around the world,1 which will require the elimination of antibiotics defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIA) to human medicine. Additionally, the routine preventative use of antibiotics will be prohibited. To make sure this policy can be effectively implemented, we are taking a tiered approach.
This builds on the progress we have already made in our U.S. chicken supply chain, with the removal in 2016 of antibiotics that the WHO has determined important to human medicine. We achieved this goal nearly a year ahead of schedule. Find out more about our work on the responsible use of antibiotics and our Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals (pdf, 183KB).
Welfare on the farm
As part of our broader chicken sustainability journey, in 2017 we made a global commitment to source chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes. This means:
- Measuring key farm-level welfare outcomes on an ongoing basis, setting progressive targets and reporting on progress. Welfare outcomes are objective measures, which provide a direct assessment of the welfare chickens experience throughout their lives. These measures are collected by directly observing the animal, such as the way it walks, the presence of any injuries or its ability to express natural behaviors such as pecking and foraging. Collectively, they provide a comprehensive assessment of animal welfare, regardless of the production system or where they were raised. The key welfare outcomes associated with a good quality of life for chickens are well-established from an academic perspective, for example the work of Welfare Quality®, which was funded by the European Commission.
- Developing state-of-the art welfare measurement technology. Through our engagement with academics and industry leaders, we know that some welfare outcome measures, such as gait scores and behavioral measures, cannot be reliably assessed commercially at present. McDonald’s wants to help identify solutions to measuring these important outcomes. We are committed to partnering with technology companies, producers, and suppliers to support the development of innovative on-farm camera monitoring systems. This pioneering research will aim to develop technology that can automatically capture these important welfare outcomes. Once established, these systems will be among the first of their kind at a commercial scale.
- Providing enrichments to support the expression of natural behavior.
- Supporting commercial trials to study the effects of certain production parameters on welfare outcomes.
- Implementing third-party auditing.
- Requiring that our Approved Suppliers transition stunning methods to Controlled Atmospheric Stunning (CAS) in the U.S. and Canada.
- Establishing a McDonald’s Advisory Council for Chicken Sustainability to support our continued journey on chicken sustainability.
- Completing an assessment to measure the feasibility of extending these commitments to the remaining global markets where McDonald’s operates.
These commitments apply to markets across the globe,2 which impact more than 70% of our global chicken supply and will be fully implemented on or before 2024. Together, we believe these commitments provide the ability to deliver sustained, measurable improvements in the welfare of millions of birds across our global supply chain. It will enable producers and suppliers, operating across diverse geographies and climates, to develop their own tailored solutions to meeting our progressive welfare outcome targets. The innovation and flexibility this approach will unlock is crucial for tackling some of the most important challenges in sustainable food production, such as minimizing the significant tradeoffs that occur between higher welfare systems and environmental impacts.
These latest commitments build on our existing position (pdf, 469KB) that all chickens used for meat in our global supply chain are required to be reared only in cage-free systems.
Welfare at slaughter
McDonald’s requires that abattoirs must pass a rigorous animal welfare audit. All our facilities providing chicken raw material globally are compliant with McDonald’s requirements. We don’t accept abattoirs as suppliers that fail to meet these standards.
For more information on our approach, please see the following Guidelines and Criteria: McDonald’s Animal Health and Welfare Guidelines and Audit Criteria – Chickens at Slaughter (pdf, 478KB).
Taking the pressure off tropical forests
As part of our commitment to eliminate deforestation from our global supply chains, we worked with Greenpeace to establish and support the Soy Moratorium, a voluntary agreement between retailers, NGOs and traders to prevent soy being grown on Amazon land deforested after 2008. In the first decade since its inception in 2006, deforestation has fallen 86% in the municipalities covered by the Moratorium (accounting for 98% of the soybeans in the Amazon biome).3
In 2015, along with Greenpeace and Cargill, we were recognized for this work by the Keystone Policy Center for Leadership in the Environment. In 2016, we supported the indefinite extension of the Moratorium, which will now remain in place until it is no longer needed.
Further significant progress is being made in Europe, where we’ve set a 2020 target for chicken suppliers to ensure their soy volumes in chicken feed are covered by sustainability certifications. In 2017, approximately 65% of the soy volumes used in the feed of chickens supplied to our restaurants in Europe was covered by a combination of ProTerra and Roundtable on Responsible Soy certification.
McDonald’s is also a member of the Cerrado Manifesto Statement of Support group, which represents an international coalition of over 100 companies and investors working together to eliminate deforestation in cattle and soy supply chains in Brazil’s Cerrado Biome. This group is especially important because it leverages the collective action of many major companies who source from this area and therefore have significant capability to work together and send a market signal to end deforestation and vegetation loss in the region.
Developing alternative chicken feeds
We’ve been working with our suppliers and research institutes to support the development of novel alternative protein feeds, to reduce our reliance on soy for chicken feed and thereby help alleviate pressure on forests. This includes studies on insects and algae, and how these feeds will impact chicken health and welfare. While our early results are encouraging, developing these new and innovative supply chains is a long-term project that may run up to 10 years.
Our goals and progress
Since 2016, no chicken served in the U.S. is treated with antibiotics important to human medicine. In 2017, we released our new Chicken Antibiotics Policy for markets around the world.
Animal health and welfare commitments on or before 2024:
- Source broiler chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes. We plan to set progressive targets, measure performance and report on key farm-level welfare outcomes across our largest markets.
- Partner with technology companies, producers and suppliers to explore the development of state-of-the-art digital monitoring systems to automate the gathering of key animal health and welfare indicators, including behavioral measures. Once established we hope that these technologies will highlight potential areas for improvement in real time and will be among the first of their kind available at a commercial scale.
- Conduct commercial trials in partnership with our largest global chicken suppliers to study the effect that certain production parameters have on key welfare outcomes, as well as other sustainability outcomes, under large-scale, commercial conditions.
- Establish a multi-stakeholder Advisory Council focused on chicken sustainability, which consists of academics, suppliers, animal welfare and environmental advocates, scientists and industry experts.
- Require chickens to be raised in housing environments that promote natural behaviors such as pecking, perching and dust-bathing. These are encouraged through provision of perches, bales and access to floor litter 100% of the time and a minimum of 20 lux light intensity during daylight. These standards reflect recommendations from scientists in the U.S. and Europe.
- Have all increased broiler welfare standards on farms audited by a third party.
- In the U.S. and Canada, transition to sourcing chickens slaughtered by the use of Controlled Atmospheric Stunning (CAS), a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved method that is recognized to be more humane for the animal, while also ensuring better conditions for workers. CAS is currently practiced by many approved suppliers for McDonald’s restaurants in Europe and Australia.
These commitments were announced at the end of 2017.
- 1. Markets covered by the policy include: Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Australia, Russia, China and Europe. For the sake of this policy, Europe includes the following countries: Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Ukraine.
- 2. These commitments apply to chicken raised for sale at McDonald’s restaurants in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, U.K., and U.S.
- 3. Greenpeace (2016) reports that “a study published in 2015 in the journal Science by Dr. Holly Gibbs, from the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin shows that the Soy Moratorium was five times more effective in reducing deforestation than the Brazilian Forest Code. The success of the Moratorium is a business case that captured the attention of the world.”
- 4. 2017: 100% of chicken served in the U.S. is free of antibiotics important to human medicine.
January 2018: HPCIAs eliminated in broiler chicken for Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and Europe, with an exception for Colistin for Europe only; implementation of all other elements of the Global Chicken Antibiotics policy across all markets, including a prohibition on routing preventative use.
End of 2019: HPCIAs will be eliminated in broiler chicken for Australia and Russia, and Europe plans to have removed Colistin.
End of 2019: HPCIAs will be eliminated in broiler chicken for Australia and Russia, and Europe plans to have removed Colistin.
January 2027: HPCIAs will be eliminated in all other designated markets around the world. Our goal is to have this policy implemented before this date.