2016 has been a critical year for egg-laying hens as the majority of major supermarkets and leading fast food outlets have committed to switching to cage-free eggs over the next decade, phasing out the industry standard of crammed battery cages. And it’s now also a pivotal point for broiler chickens—birds raised for their meat–as both Compass Group USA and Aramark, the two leading food service suppliers for cafeterias in schools, universities, and hospitals, have committed to major animal welfare reform across their supply chains, setting a 2024 deadline.
The announcements, coming last week within an hour of each other, have both Aramark and Compass Group USA adopting Global Animal Partnership approved strains of broiler chickens. With the help of animal welfare organizations the Humane Society of the United States and Compassion in World Farming, the food service suppliers have pledged that the broiler hens raised for their companies will grow more slowly than most conventionally raised chickens in the U.S. Modern conventional chickens have been bred to grow so big so fast that their legs can’t support the weight of their own bodies, they often suffer heart attacks as a result of their size, and experience compromised immune systems, leading to an overuse of medically important antibiotics.
The Global Animal Partnership, an independent animal welfare certification group, will work with Aramark and the Compass Group to select healthier chicken strains and work with both food service suppliers to ensure its 5-step animal welfare program commitments are met.
Aramark and Compass Group both also pledged to replace electric stunning with controlled atmosphere killing, a more effective and humane method that renders the birds unconscious before slaughter.
And the food service companies will also require suppliers to provide minimum space requirements and housing enrichments such as hay bales, perches, and natural light.
“This is going to propel the industry to start making these changes overall,” Josh Balk, food policy director at the Humane Society of the United States, told the Huffington Post. “Every policy change brings about another policy change. The suppliers, the large poultry companies, will have to shift their operations to meet the demand of Compass and Aramark.”
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