Food service companies Aramark and Compass Group USA, in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States and Compassion in World Farming, yesterday announced separate sourcing plans for their future supplies of broiler chicken.

Aramark is asking its suppliers to take the following actions by 2024, or sooner if possible:

  • Transitioning to strains of birds that measurably improve welfare issues associated with fast growth rates per Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) standards;
  • Reducing maximum stocking density to equal to/less than 6 lbs./sq. ft. per GAP standards;
  • Providing chickens with enriched environments including natural light, hay bales and perches that meet GAP standards;
  • Evaluating with animal welfare organizations over the next year issues related to litter quality, lighting, air quality, and other environmental conditions; and
  • Rendering chickens unconscious prior to shackling using Controlled or Low Atmosphere Stunning.

Compass is agreeing to ensure certification under GAP’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program for all broiler chickens as a buying requirement across 100 percent of their business by 2024.  Key areas of the standard will include:

  • Using approved genetic strains and meeting criteria for any new strains, to be assessed;
  • Enrichments including hay bales, perches, and natural light; and
  • Minimum space requirements (6lbs/square foot).

In response to the news, the National Chicken Council released the following statement, attributable to Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., National Chicken Council senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs:

“Chicken producers are in the business of providing choice in the marketplace, and we strongly support that choice.  Whether it is traditional chicken, organic, raised without antibiotics or different breeds, consumers have the ability to choose products that take into account many factors, including taste preference, personal values and affordability.  We do not believe, however, that one production system should be vilified at the expense of another.

“The assertion that the efficiencies gained in chicken production have had detrimental impacts on the welfare of broiler chickens is not supported by science, data or the realities of modern chicken production.

“As an industry, we’re proud of the care we take to ensure the health of our chickens, which has led our national flock to being the healthiest it’s ever been. We are committed to providing this information to the public – which is why we recently launched our Chicken Check In program – to answer questions about how chickens are grown and raised.

“And we’re committed to continual improvement, but those improvements should be dictated by science and data, not animal rights activists or emotional rhetoric that is unsupported by facts.

“Retailers and food service providers must also seriously consider the negative environmental and sustainability repercussions of switching to birds that reach market weight slower and require more space.

“There is an environmental and economic impact resulting from a shift from conventional production to slow-growing production of broilers in the U.S., including increased feed, land and water utilization, more manure output and greater production cost that will ultimately have to be absorbed by consumers.”

Recent research has shown that per year for one chicken house, raising a chicken to these ‘slow growing’ standards would:

  • result in a shortfall of 1.3 million servings of chicken per year;
  • feed 3,200 less people;
  • have a devastating effect on the environment by requiring 1.7 million lbs more feed;
  • require 384 additional acres to grow that feed;
  • use 255,000 more gallons of water for the chickens to drink;
  • produce 1.4 million lbs more of manure; and
  • increase the cost of production $458,000 per chicken house.

These numbers represent the impacts of one chicken house that would make the switch.  There are about 64,000 chicken houses currently in the U.S.

“As an industry, we have the commitment and responsibility to focus first and foremost on the welfare of chickens; and to ensure safe and affordable food for Americans while minimizing our impact on the environment.”

For more information on enrichments, lighting and stunning methods, please click here.