Rights group alleges multiple Canadian fast-food chains engaging in animal cruelty, poor treatment of chickens
Chickens are seen in a barn in Abbotsford, B.C., on Thursday, November 10, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
The Canadian chapter of an animal welfare group is giving several major fast-food chains a “very poor” grade when it comes to their treatment of chickens during the food production process.
World Animal Protection, a U.K.-based non-profit organization, released its annual report on Tuesday that reviews the practices of dozens of fast-food chains globally and the welfare of chickens in the companies’ supply chains. The group held fast-food chains to a set of guidelines created by multiple charity groups and not practices based on government policies.
“Each year billions of chickens are subjected to unnecessary suffering at the hands of fast-food companies who refuse to take the welfare of the chickens in their meat supply chain seriously,” states Vince Cinches, the interim head of global campaigns at the organization, in the report.
However, Chicken Farmers of Canada, which represents the industry and liaisons with government decision makers, along with ensuring chicken production meets standards, told CTVNews.ca in an emailed statement that activist groups usually “do not take the reality of Canadian chicken production into consideration.”
Chicken farmers are held to mandatory standards under the Raised by a Canadian Farmer Animal Care Program, which has been created based on guidelines from the government-funded National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code of Practice. That was developed by experts in animal care and includes a public consolation process, said Lauren Kennedy, the director of public affairs at Chicken Farmers of Canada in the emailed statement.
Those farmers are audited annually under those standards and the rules are “and enforced on all 2,800 broiler chicken farms and (are) verified annually through a comprehensive third-party audit by NSF International, an internationally recognized, third-party certification body, accredited by the American National Standards Institute,” said Kennedy.
The NFACC is a “world leader” in bringing together multiple stakeholders from farmers to animal welfare associations and the standards it has developed that Canadian farmers must follow are “sound,” she said.
The Care Council’s Code of Practice is a nationally developed guideline on farming, including how to treat farm animals, with policies on euthanasia to reduce suffering.
Each province and territory is mainly responsible for the welfare of livestock and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency works with jurisdictions to assess if requirements are being met, including humane slaughter requirements.
Agriculture and Agri Food Canada, a department within the federal government that regulates agriculture, told CTVNews.ca that Canada is a leader in animal welfare and there are “robust systems” in place to ensure animals are well cared for.
The Code of Practice and its ongoing development is supported by the government and a science advisory group was consulted to provide advice “according to the most recent available animal welfare science,” it said in an emailed statement Thursday.
World Animal Protection does not mention the federal government’s guidelines or standards in its report. In an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday, the charity said the Code of Practice standards are “minimum” and believes those regulations “aren’t strong enough to guarantee good welfare.”
The Code permits the use of fast-growing chicken breeds which “can result in poor welfare associated with health problems,” the charity said.
Two fast food chains have also denied the allegations in emailed responses to CTVNews.ca.
This year, the World Animal Protection said it found that “companies are deliberately ignoring large-scale animal cruelty in their supply chains” and that while some have improved their practices, others need to be held accountable, Cinches states.
The 2022 report contains assessments of brands across nine countries including the U.S., India, China and Canada.
It handed down a Tier 6 grade to six of the eight Canadian branches of the companies assessed, which it labelled as “very poor.” The chains that received that grade are KFC, Starbucks Canada, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Nando's and Burger King.
McDonald’s Canada received a Tier 5 grade, which indicates a “poor” status, according to the report.
While the report doesn’t give specific details on exactly what each company has done, or not done, to achieve the grades, World Animal Protection uses methodology based on the “Better Chicken Commitment,” a framework created by multiple animal welfare agencies for the food industry. There are different documents based on the country.
For the U.S. and Canada, the “Better Chicken Commitment” includes guidelines around maximum stocking density, an “improved baseline environment,” which involves continuous light and darkness and perches or platforms the birds can use, along with compliance with third-party auditing.
The assessments for the 2022 report were conducted by an independent assessor called Chronos Sustainability Ltd. It asked questions of the fast-food companies around its commitments and the timeline around implementation, along with current practices.
The tier system within the report is based on points ascribed to whether the companies meet criteria and how they are planning to meet criteria.
The report’s section on Canada alleges Canadian subsidiaries of fast-food chains are treating chickens more poorly than counterparts in the U.K. and Europe overall.
For instance, KFC in Europe has committed to guidelines within the European version of the “Better Chicken Commitment,” while KFC Canada has not, the report states.
In an emailed response to a request from CTVNews.ca, KFC said it is “committed to the well-being and humane treatment of chickens” and is “proud of our industry-leading animal welfare guidelines.”
It said it buys chicken from the same brands Canadians see in their local supermarketsand does not own poultry factories. As well, it requires suppliers to follow welfare guidelines developed with Yum’s Animal Welfare Advisory Council. Yum is KFC’s parent company and created the advisory council in 2002 to increase animal welfare including committing to cage-free eggs in 2021 in Canada and other markets.
KFC is also an associate member of the NFACC and partners with the Chicken Farmers of Canada.
Nando’s also told CTVNews.ca in an emailed statement that it takes animal welfare “very seriously” and that its chickens “are reared to national standards and are humanely raised in well-ventilated barns with constant access to food, water and sunlight.”
McDonald’s Canada was ranked slightly higher than other fast-food chains as it is using “more humane slaughter methods,” the report states. The company uses controlled atmospheric stunning, which is a slaughter method that uses mechanical, electrical or gas to kill animals, according to the federal government.
Subway Canada received a Tier 1 score, the best grade that could be attained according to World Animal Protection’s framework. Subway has committed to change under the charity’s frameworks, but has not yet reported on its progress, the report states.
CTVNews.ca has also reached out to Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Starbucks Canada, Dominos, and Burger King regarding the report.
This story has been updated to reflect that KFC buys chicken from the same brands Canadians see in local supermarkets.