Panera Bread Company has become the first nationwide restaurant chain to address the problem of fast-growing chickens. The chain has demanded that its suppliers commit to slower growing species of chickens by 2024.
Panera's new policies also require suppliers to enhance the living environments and stocking densities of all of their chickens, aligning with Global Animal Partnership standards. The chain will also eliminate live-shackling slaughter methods and require controlled atmosphere stunning.
“As a restaurant serving more than 10 million people a week, we have the platform and purchasing power to encourage positive changes in animal welfare practices," Sara Burnett, Director of Wellness and Food Policy at Panera, said in a press release. "We also have a responsibility to the farmers and ranchers who care for these animals. They have been essential partners over the years and we respect the investments they will need to make as we work together to find economically viable and sustainable models that lead to higher welfare birds.”
The new policy will improve the lives of the more than 17 million chickens raised for meat in Panera’s supply chain.
Fast-growing chickens are bred to grow approximately six times as quickly as chickens who grow naturally, reaching a weight of nine pounds by the time of their slaughter at ust 42 days old. This rate of growth can lead chickens to suffer crippling injuries amongst other health issues.
Slow-growing chickens, by comparison, only reach about 3.8 pounds before slaughter. They also require fewer antibiotics and fewer veterinary visits during their lifetimes.
"When it comes to chickens, Panera is leading the pack—not only are they doing the right thing for their business, they’re doing the right thing for animals,"says Leah Garces, U.S. Executive Director at Compassion in World Farming, of this announcement. "We commend this commitment, which is a signal to the entire restaurant sector that demand for higher welfare is not going away and now is the time to take action.”
The announcement was made following conversations between Panera Bread Company and The Humane League over the past several months. The company’s new policy is part of The Humane League’s 88% Campaign, a series of campaigns addressing abuses in factory farming against chickens raised for meat, which represent 88.7 percent of all farmed land animals in the U.S.
This announcement joins other efforts made by Panera Bread Company to improve animal welfare, including removing antibiotics from 86 percent of its chicken supply chain and serving 93 percent antibiotic- and gestation crate-free pork. Ninety-five percent of the chain’s beef is grass-fed and free-range, up 89 percent from 2015. Panera is also working on switching to entirely cage-free eggs, with 28 percent of its eggs coming from cage-free hens in 2016.
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