McDonald’s Commitment to Chicken Sustainability
We’re Using our Scale for Good to Improve Animal Welfare, Antimicrobial Stewardship and Feed Sourcing
By Dr. Nicola Robinson, Veterinary Surgeon
Senior Manager for Global Sustainability, McDonald’s Corporation
Feeding the planet and achieving a sustainable food system — one that works for consumers, producers, businesses, the environment and the millions of farm animals around the world — is perhaps one of the most urgent challenges of our time. At McDonald’s we take this challenge very seriously. It’s easy to view McDonald’s as a large, anonymous organization, when actually it’s a company of people, like me, passionate about the issues and committed to take action. Our focus is on using our scale to drive meaningful outcomes on the critical issues we know are important for people, animals, the environment and our business, now and in the years to come.
Today, McDonald’s is taking the next important step in our chicken sustainability strategy and global chicken welfare commitments. We are launching a Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council and are honored to welcome a diverse mix of key suppliers and genetics experts, advisors like FAI Farms, leading academics and researchers like Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Harry Blokhuis, and NGOs, including conservation organization World Wildlife Fund. This multi-stakeholder group will provide deep expertise, diverse perspectives, and advise McDonald’s on the implementation and evolution of our holistic chicken welfare and sustainability strategy. This global council is unique considering its membership and diversity, and will provide guidance for the welfare outcomes we will use across our global supply chain and the progressive targets we’ll set.
McDonald’s has a global vision to source all of our food and packaging sustainably. Taking a responsible approach to sourcing ingredients is important to our customers and chicken is one of our most popular menu offerings. So in 2016, we launched a three-pronged Global Chicken Sustainability Strategy to address antibiotic stewardship, animal welfare and chicken feed. The Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council will advise on all three aspects of this strategy going forward.
As a key part of the strategy, in 2017 we issued our Antibiotics Use Policy for Broiler Chickens in markets around the world, building on our U.S. commitment to serve chicken not treated with antibiotics that the World Health Organization has determined important to human medicine — a milestone we reached one year ahead of schedule. Also last year, McDonald’s announced a commitment to source chickens raised with improved welfare outcomes, encompassing eight goals that will impact more than 70 percent of our global chicken supply and will be fully implemented by the end of 2024. We consulted with a number of diverse stakeholders, including NGOs, scientists, customers, global suppliers and chicken genetics companies to develop the best approach for our global supply chain.
“I think it’s one of the most comprehensive corporate programs that I’ve seen for chickens,” added Council member and animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin.
This builds on a legacy of commitments. For example, as part of our commitment to eliminate deforestation from our global supply chains, for more than a decade we’ve been working with Greenpeace to help 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. 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). In addition, McDonald’s has been partnering for many years with a key supplier, Cargill, as well as academic institutions to support pioneering research to accelerate the development of innovative alternatives to soy in chicken diets.
McDonald’s approach to chicken welfare is focused on welfare outcomes. 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.
Welfare Outcome Focus
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. However, there is some work to do to translate this into a commercially applicable set of welfare outcomes for a global supply chain such as ours. Using the science as a basis, we will identify a comprehensive set of chicken welfare outcomes we can practically apply across our global supply chain. McDonald’s is committed to taking meaningful action, and will work to set progressive targets resulting in improved chicken welfare across our global supply chain and improved standards that will be third-party verified.
“Welfare Quality was the largest piece of integrated research work ever carried out on animal welfare in Europe,” said Dr. Blokhuis of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “It focuses on assessing welfare from an animal’s point of view, rather than just the nature and quality of its living conditions. Leveraging integrated research that focuses on the state of the animal is critically important for companies who can make a large impact, like McDonald’s.”
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. I’m excited to play a role in developing tools for animal welfare that do not exist in the industry today; it’s an important part of what we call using our Scale for Good.
Given the multifactorial nature of chicken welfare opportunities, I believe that our commitment to improved chicken welfare outcomes provides the most comprehensive way forward for McDonald’s 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 urgent challenges in sustainable food production, such as minimizing the significant tradeoffs that occur between higher welfare systems and environmental impacts.
Launching the Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council to engage with a diverse community of experts in partnership with our trusted suppliers is a significant milestone in McDonald’s journey. As the world seeks to reconcile food production with the environmental limits of a finite planet, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that production systems meet the welfare needs of food animal species, whilst protecting the ecological systems that sustain us all. I’m very proud of our work, and am grateful for the opportunity to continue to advance the issues that I, my colleagues and our supplier partners, care so deeply about. It’s all part of building a better McDonald’s.
Nicola Robinson is a Senior Manager on the global sustainability team at McDonald’s Corporation. She currently leads a global project team with the responsibility of defining chicken sustainability for McDonald’s restaurants around the world. Nicola is a qualified Veterinary Surgeon and holds a master’s degree in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London.