Popular casual dining chain TGI Friday’s announced yesterday plans to eliminate fast-growth chickens from its restaurants by 2024 in a move animal welfare groups and consumers are applauding.
According to TGI Friday’s website, the company is “committed to working with our vendor partners across our entire supply chain to make improvements." The chain said the commitment "goes beyond chicken and includes our use of seafood, pork, and beef," but no additional details on what those improvements will be.
The chain’s nearly 1,000 restaurant locations will shift to chicken breeds approved by Global Animal Partnership (GAP), use suppliers in accordance with GAP’s standards for space and improved environments, and source chickens that have been killed utilizing the humane controlled-atmosphere gassing system over the next seven years.
“We will ensure our suppliers are in compliance with this commitment via third-party auditing,” the company noted, adding that it’s also moving toward cage-free eggs with a 2025 deadline to be fully compliant with that commitment. That deadline is on par with many major restaurants, food manufacturers, and grocery stores making the shift.
“Our commitment to responsibility also extends to ingredient integrity and clean label enhancements," TGI Friday's noted on its website. "We are reviewing all our ingredients and are removing/avoiding ingredients with added MSG or artificial trans fats. We continue to review each ingredient in our recipes with the goal of removing artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. This is in conjunction with our efforts to reduce sodium on our menu items.”
The commitment to slow-growth chickens comes as several other chains have announced similar plans, including California Pizza Kitchen and Panera Bread Company, as well as Whole Foods. The move signals slow-growth chicken breeds may soon be the next big animal welfare movement in the industry like commitments to cage-free eggs have seen in recent years.
“Change will not occur overnight,” noted TGI Friday’s. “We are on a sustained journey to provide the best products for our guests by working closely with our suppliers to source safe, sustainable, high-quality ingredients from farms, fields and oceans.”
Under current industry practices, most commercial chickens are bred to grow at an enhanced rate to dramatically increase their size before slaughter, with some birds weighing three times what they would naturally weigh in that same time period. Chickens develop serious health issues as a result of the enhanced growth, including heart attacks and the inability to stand because their bodies are too heavy to be supported by their legs.
While animal welfare organizations and food industry leaders are embracing slow-growth birds, the chicken industry is pushing back, suggesting that decreased bird size only means more birds will be necessary to meet demand.
“It comes with trade-offs, and that’s what we want to get out there,” Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council told Valley News last month. “Before it becomes a domino issue like the cage-free eggs, we want our customers to have all of the information on hand while they’re making these decisions.”
But animal welfare groups have a different opinion, and they say consumers, who are now often opting for meatless meals altogether, want to see cleaner and more humane animal products from the nation's leading chains.
“As more mainstream restaurants commit to improve the conditions for chickens in their supply chains, it is evident that these policies will soon be the industry standard,” David Coman-Hidy, Executive Director of animal welfare organization The Humane League said in a statement. “TGI Friday’s new policy will provide chickens with basic protections on factory farms that they have not been afforded in the past.”
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