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McDonald’s has a big chicken problem

Opinion

New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote a powerful piece on the chicken industry in December 2014. It detailed a whistleblower chicken farmer named Craig Watts who risked everything to call attention to the inherent inhumane practices within his own industry. Kristof concluded: “Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.”

Since then, the changes within the food corporations and producers have been astounding. 

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Jim Perdue, once the villain of the very video that Kristof refers to, took the path of reformed sinner.  A year after the article, he was quoted saying “We need happier birds.”

Since then Perdue Farms, the country’s third largest chicken company, has announced a series of improvements. These include installing windows for natural light in 25 percent of their chicken houses, and working on better breeds of birds. 

Major companies like Compass Foods, Aramark, Subway and Burger King have all committed to switching to better breeds of birds and giving them more space. In fact, nearly 90 national chains have stepped up to improve the lives of chickens. 

But one company is glaringly absent from the list of leaders. McDonald’s insists  they need to ‘study’ the issue more. With a wealth of scientific studies already conducted on higher chicken welfare, McDonald’s study approach seems the hallmark of a corporation avoiding a necessary decision. 

The breed of bird currently used by McDonald’s is nothing short of a genetic monster. She’s been selectively bred to grow so big, so fast, that she can suffer from heart attacks and leg pain. Most of the birds just sit, only getting up to eat or drink out of necessity, but otherwise find it too uncomfortable or even painful to walk. Some can’t walk at all, and have to be euthanized even before they reach their slaughter date. 

Yet a solution exists. It might require hard work, grit, and commitment because of the sheer size of the industry, but McDonalds is not usually shy of such things. Afterall, McDonald’s led the way on committing to 100 percent cage free eggs, reducing calories in  kids meals, and environmental responsibility. Their resistance to improving the lives of chickens in a meaningful way remains an anomaly.

The finish line has already been set by consumers. The public will not accept a company turning a blind eye to poor animal welfare when there is a known solution.  A case in point is Chicago mom ShaRhonda Dawson. She was so frustrated  with McDonald’s and their refusal to do better for chickens that she started a change.org petition that now has over 100,000 signatures.

In addition, the leading animal protection organizations in the country are organized and unified in asking McDonald’s to say goodbye to badly bred birds. 

Every day Mcdonald’s avoids that decision further alienates them from their informed and compassionate consumers. And that is never a good thing for any business. The question for McDonald’s is not what will it cost them to improve the lives of the chickens in their supply chain, but rather, what will it cost them not to? 

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