This week Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Burger King and Tim Hortons, announced new animal welfare commitments for 2025. The policy extend to Burger King and Tim Hortons locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Latin America.
The commitments cover a wide range of animal welfare issues, including cage-free chicken and sow housing, as well as the responsible use of antibiotics.
The animal welfare group Mercy For Animals worked with RBI for six months to make these commitments. Burger King is the fourth largest quick-serve restaurant chain in the U.S. with over 15,000 locations, and Tim Hortons is the largest quick-service restaurant chain in Canada — so this is a big buy-in.
The commitments “should inspire other leading quick-serve restaurant chains to implement identical commonsense welfare improvements,” Brent Cox, vice president of corporate outreach with Mercy For Animals, said in a statement. “It is imperative that other quick-service restaurants acknowledge that animal cruelty has no place in a civilized society.”
“We are pleased to support RBI in this transition,” added Priscilla Ma, U.S. executive director of World Animal Protection, in a statement. “The commitment announced by Burger King and Tim Hortons will be highly impactful for chickens in North America. This move sends a powerful signal to food businesses around the world that meaningful change for chickens is not only possible but vital.”
Bye-bye to cruel confinement
Many North American farm animals are confined in small spaces throughout their lives. Hen-laying eggs are forced to live in battery cages the size of one sheet of letter-sized paper. They are in such small quarters that they cannot engage in normal chicken behavior such as dusting or perching.
A typical egg farm in the U.S. houses thousands of battery cages that are lined up in multiple rows and stacked three to five tiers high, according to the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS).
RBI set 2025 as the year Burger King and Tim Hortons will transition to 100 percent cage-free eggs in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Latin America.
Like chickens, pregnant sows are typically confined to gestation crates that are so small they cannot even turn around. The crates are around two feet wide and seven feet long.
Being confined in such small spaces affects the health and welfare of breeding sows, according to HSUS. They can end up with reduced muscle weight and bone strength, making even simple movements difficult. Such close quarters also increase the chances the sow will slip and hurt herself.
The sows confined in gestation crates tend to be less fit than ones that are not confined. They can also get injuries and feel sore from rubbing against the bars of the crates.
RBI will source pork exclusively from suppliers that do not use gestation crates by 2022 in North America and by 2025 in Latin America.
Making the broiler chicken supply chain more humane
About 70 percent of chickens raised for meat around the world are in intensive farming systems. Chickens raised in intensive farming systems are bred to reach slaughter weight in about six weeks, which is less than the half time it traditionally takes.
The chickens often spend their short lives in overcrowded sheds and have no access to the outdoors, according to Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). Broiler sheds are usually bare and only have water and food. They lack natural light and litter on the floor to absorb droppings, which is often not cleaned until the chickens are taken to slaughter. Chickens can develop burns on their legs and feet, called hock burns, from contact with litter.
RBI committed to adopt the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) standards, which includes transitioning to breeds that are determined to have better welfare outcomes, providing more space by reducing maximum stocking density, enhancing living environments, and using a multi-step controlled-atmosphere stunning system.
A more responsible use of antibiotics
“Antibiotic use plays a major role in the emerging public health crisis of antibiotic resistance,” Ohio State University researchers concluded in a 2012 study on antibiotic use among farm animals. The majority of antibiotic use “occurs in agricultural settings,” they determined.
The researchers found that the use of antibiotics among animals raised for food is “widespread” and the density of “modern intensively managed livestock operations” contributes to the use of them among farm animals.
Presently, RBI requires its suppliers to buy from farmers that use antibiotics in what the company deems a “judicious and responsible manner when treatment is necessary.” It aims to eliminate the use of antibiotics that the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled “critically important” to human medicine from its chicken supply chain by 2017 in the U.S. and 2018 in Canada. It is especially vital to reduce human overexposure to these antibiotics, as too much exposure can impede their effectiveness in fighting infection.
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