Food

World's Largest Food Service Companies Make Historic Animal Welfare Announcement

The lives of billions of chickens raised in the U.S. each year will be improved.

Modern chicken farm, production of white meat
Photo Credit: Bukhanovskyy/Shutterstock

Compass Group and Aramark, two of the top three largest food service companies, which run dining operations at thousands of colleges, universities, hospitals, and stadiums nationwide, have made trailblazing animal welfare announcements. Specifically, they’re addressing the four key concerns for chickens in the meat industry:

  • Transitioning to healthier strains of birds that measurably improve welfare issues associated with fast growth rates.
  • Reducing maximum stocking density to equal to/less than 6 lbs./square foot.
  • Providing chickens with enriched environments, including natural light, hay bales, and perches.
  • Rendering chickens unconscious prior to shackling using Controlled or Low Atmosphere Stunning.

Compass Group, which alone serves more than 10 million meals each day in the United States, will achieve its goals over the next eight years by joining in a partnership with Global Animal Partnership (GAP), a leading animal welfare certification program. Compass Group is mandating that all chickens purchased by the company come from third-party-certified suppliers meeting GAP standards. These standards address issues surrounding rapid growth, enrichment, and living conditions such as space per bird. This is the largest buyer of chickens ever to issue such a commitment with GAP and the company will publicly track its progress annually in reaching the 100-percent mark of the phase-in.

While not requiring that its suppliers get certified by GAP, Aramark is mandating that its suppliers follow GAP standards for the key on-farm issues stated above, also over the next eight years. Both Aramark and Compass Group are additionally requiring their suppliers to render chickens unconscious prior to shackling at slaughter plants, a fate the birds previously were forced to face while fully conscious.

Both Aramark and Compass have previously tackled issues like gestation crates, battery cages, and veal crates; but today’s announcement is their most impactful yet. Nearly all of the nine billion chickens raised in the United States each year are bred to grow so large so fast, they live in chronic pain. Imagine trying to walk to reach food and water, but each step is so painful that it takes every ounce of willpower just to move. Imagine dying of a heart attack at just a few weeks old. These birds’ legs and organs simply are no match for the industry’s twisted genetics programs.

These companies’ announcements mean the poultry producers they rely on will have to breed birds not for inordinately fast growth and large body size, but for better health. It’ll give these animals more space, and provide them with enrichments like perches and natural light. It’ll afford them a much better end, through switching to a “controlled-atmosphere” system that ensures birds are unconscious prior to being shackled alive and slaughtered.

We worked with chicken production giant Perdue to announce last June that it was also instituting a set of reforms for the welfare of chickens. In order for food buyers and sellers to institute changes, they have to work with producers on the supply end. Today, the suppliers and sellers become much more aligned, with Aramark and Compass Group becoming the first big purchasers of chickens to adopt these new higher welfare procurement policies.

Nine out of 10 terrestrial farm animals in our country are chickens, so it’s going to take many more announcements like this one to reach a tipping point. But this marks the beginning of a new reform movement, with an increasing focus on broilers from many in the animal movement, from groups like Humane League and our ally Compassion in World Farming. Working with the largest food companies—including Compass Group and Aramark—we plan on changing the way broiler chickens are raised and slaughtered in the United States.

This article was originally published on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.

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