Qdoba Mexican Eats and Jack in the Box, part of the same parent company, joined a long line of food giants in announcing new animal welfare standards this week.
The companies set a multi-pronged approach for 2024, in part by switching to broiler breeds the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) approves as having higher welfare outcomes. Fast-growing breeds make up 98 percent of all commercially available chickens in North America. GAP-approved breeds grow about 23 percent slower than conventional chickens. But fast-growing breeds can develop immune and musculoskeletal problems.
Both restaurants are committed to reducing stocking density of broiler chickens in barns to GAP standards of equal to or less than six pounds per square foot, which gives the birds about 25 percent more space than conventional chickens. They are also committed to enhancing the living environments of broiler chickens with improved litter, lighting and enrichment, according to GAP standards, and to switching to a multi-step controlled-atmospheric stunning to ensure the chickens are unconscious before they are processed.
“We’ve always been committed to the well-being of animals in our supply chain,” said Lenny Comma, chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. “As examples, in recent years we’ve worked with our suppliers to improve housing environments for egg layers and sows.
“Jack in the Box and Qdoba’s commitment to improving the welfare of chickens in their supply chains by meeting Global Animal Partnership standards will reduce the suffering of countless birds,” said Brent Cox, vice president of corporate outreach for Mercy For Animals, in a statement. “It should also inspire other leading restaurant chains to implement identical commonsense welfare improvements.”
Animal welfare across the supply chain
Qdoba and Jack in the Box have set goals for other animals in its supply chains, including egg-laying hens and sows. By 2020, the fast food chains expect their egg suppliers to transition most of their egg supply to cage-free, and to fully transition to cage-free eggs by 2025. Most egg-laying chickens in the U.S. are housed in cages that only give them 67 to 76 square inches of space per chicken. However, non-cage systems are rapidly growing and account for 10 percent of U.S. production, an increase of four percent in just a few years. Many food companies have set similar goals to those of Qdoba and Jack in the Box, so in about a decade caged systems will likely be far less.
Most sows in the U.S. are housed in gestation stalls, which are so small they are barely able to move. Qdoba and Jack in the Box state in their animal welfare standards that they “believe group housing is a preferable housing system for sows.” In 2012, they set a goal that by 2022 all pork products in their supply chains would come from supply systems where pregnant sows are kept in group housing. They have increased the percentage of pork raw materials sourced from group housing since adopting the goal. Several major suppliers are working to convert their company-owned farms to group housing by 2018.
Antibiotics use is another area where Jack in the Box has set a goal. Jack in the Box does not buy poultry that have received antibiotics important to human health and is working with its suppliers to eliminate other routine uses of medically important antibiotics by 2020.
Animal welfare groups hope that other restaurant chains will follow the lead of companies that have adopted better animal welfare standards. As Cox said, “Companies that fail to adopt this meaningful chicken welfare policy will simply be out of step with consumer expectations and business trends.”
Image credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture