Fast food giant Burger King, like many of its competitors, has long sourced its chickens from farms that utilize these practices. But Tuesday, the brand announced its intention to phase abused chicken out of its supply chain. According to a news release, by 2024, Burger King will only use chicken that meets welfare standards laid out by Global Animal Partnership, an animal welfare certification program. Mercy for Animals, an animal advocacy group, worked with the brand to develop its policy.
The standards “will require chicken suppliers to breed only higher-welfare strains of chickens, reduce the stocking density of the birds, improve light levels and litter quality inside barns, and use controlled atmosphere stunning to render the birds unconscious before slaughter, dramatically improving slaughter methods and the birds’ living conditions,” the company wrote in its release.
The move could also be seen as a way for Burger King, which consistently ranks behind McDonald’s, to distinguish itself in a crowded field, especially as “better burger” purveyors like Shake Shack gain ground. According to Grub Street, the move away from cruelly-raised chicken puts Burger King in line with Starbucks, Panera Bread and Chipotle, brands that have a high perception of quality among consumers. Global Animal Partnership works with Whole Foods, another prestige brand. Fast-food companies aren’t usually spoken of in the same sentence.
Mercy for Animals has called out other brands, like Chik-fil-a and McDonald’s, which source from Tyson’s (warning: links contains disturbing imagery), for not adhering to the same standards (though Chick-fil-A disputed Mercy for Animals’ 2014 report, saying the group’s footage came from a supplier it no longer used). And this is not to say that Burger King can claim a moral high ground over all other fast food chains. Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that the brand’s animal feed operations came from deforested lands in Bolivia and Brazil.
Burger King has been working to elevate its profile ever since 2012, when Wendy’s overtook the brand to become the No. 2 fast food burger chain in America. Burger King has since regained its spot, and has been making strides against McDonald’s. The Motley Fool reports that sales at Burger King have grown in the last quarter, as McDonald’s sales have fallen. A PR boost consumers who care about animal rights could further that trend.
It’s hard to measure a chicken’s happiness, as Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel wrote in a column last year. But in the next few years, the lives of chickens that are destined to become Burger King sandwiches and fries will be better, and will end more humanely.
As for the taste of their chicken sandwiches — well, they’re still working on that.
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