In late March, as the million-plus New York Times print subscribers sat down to breakfast and cracked open their newspapers, they probably weren’t expecting a full-page advertisement calling out McDonald’s for its abuse of chickens. After all, a few years earlier the company had been praised for announcing it would source exclusively cage-free eggs — an announcement that propelled the entire egg industry to begin to move away from barbaric battery cages, which confine hens so intensively they can’t even spread their wings, to less cruel systems void of cages.
But in recent years the fast-food giant has fallen behind its competitors, such as Burger King and Subway, in addressing the worst factory farming practices, which are meted out on billions of chickens each year for our fast-food addiction to nuggets, tenders, and chicken sandwiches.
Chickens raised and slaughtered for meat, known as “broiler chickens” by the poultry industry, are bred to grow so large, so fast, that many cannot even walk without pain. According to University of Arkansas researchers, if humans grew at a rate similar to that of commercially bred chickens in the poultry industry, a six-pound newborn would weigh 660 pounds after just two months. They’re then crammed by the tens of thousands into ammonia-ridden dark, windowless warehouses and forced to live in their own waste, which causes painful eye sores and respiratory distress.
While more than 100 food brands have committed to banning these cruel practices from their supply chains, Mickey D’s has stood firm in its commitment to extreme animal cruelty. Six of the nation’s largest animal welfare groups are — mind the wordplay — not lovin’ it, and are now urging the super sized chain to catch up with its competitors and pledge to end this abuse.
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These claims of cruelty in McDonald’s supply chain have been corroborated by a Mercy For Animals undercover exposé. In 2015, a whistleblower captured hidden-camera video footage of chickens who could barely even walk, suffering inside sheds where they were forced to live in their own excrement. On top of these standard cruelties in the poultry industry, workers were caught beating, stabbing, and impaling chickens on makeshift clubs with nails affixed to them, and then throwing the bloodied birds into buckets to slowly die. Factory farm owners stepped on the heads of live chickens and then pulled the birds’ wings or bodies to break their necks. The investigative findings stood in stark contrast to McDonald’s sanitized “food transparency” campaign it launched a year prior.
Will McDonald’s continue being a laggard on animal welfare or once again take the lead? Time will tell. But McDonald’s should recognize that releasing a stronger animal welfare policy isn’t just good for animals; it’s also what its customers want. A 2017 survey found that four out of five Americans agree these practices should be completely banned from our food system, even if it raises the price of chicken. A 2018 poll went a step further, finding that 47 percent of Americans would support a ban on all slaughterhouses.
While McDonald’s may not be replacing all of its chicken sandwiches with its new McVegan burger just yet, the company would be wise to ban the worst factory farm abuses from its supply chain, lest it fall behind both business trends and consumer expectations.