Chipotle Mexican Grill has improved its animal welfare standards for chickens yet again. And for a company that buys about 140 million pounds of chicken a year, a commitment to better standards can improve the lives of many chickens in the U.S.
Chipotle worked with Compassion in World Farming USA and the Humane Society of the U.S. to develop the new standards. Those new standards deal with fast-growing chickens, the environments where chickens are housed, the space given to each chicken, and the way they are slaughtered.
Chipotle addressed each of these issues by aligning with the Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) standards for broiler chickens. The company will make sure suppliers comply with the new standards through third-party auditors.
Chipotle's new commitment includes new goals for 2024, such as transitioning to strains of chickens that are bred for “measurably improved” welfare. Fast-growing chickens represent 98 percent of all chicken meat available in North America. Modern chicken breeds have been selected to grow quickly and efficiently and produce a higher yield of breast meat -- which has detrimental effects on the welfare of broiler chickens, such as immune and musculoskeletal problems that limit a chicken’s ability to express natural behaviors like flying and perching.
GAP’s plan requires slower-growing chickens that have a genetic potential growth rate that is equal to or less than 50 grams daily averaged over the growth cycle. That is about a 23 percent slower growth rate than that of conventional chickens.
Other goals include:
- Improving housing conditions by giving chickens more space and reducing the maximum stocking density to six pounds per square foot.
- Improving living conditions by including improved lighting, litter and floor enrichments that allow chickens to express natural behaviors.
- Improving the slaughter process by processing chickens in a way that uses a multi-step, controlled-atmosphere system.
“Chipotle has long been at the forefront of animal welfare issues and enlightened sourcing for our restaurants, and we’re proud of our commitment to the evolution of our already high standards for chicken,” Joshua Brau, Food with Integrity program manager at Chipotle, said in a statement.
“This is one more step forward for Chipotle, and one giant leap for chickens,” added Matthew Prescott, senior food policy director for the Humane Society of the U.S.
Chipotle's goals represent a big improvement in the lives of broiler chickens, or chickens raised for meat. The lives of broiler chickens in the U.S. are bleak. They are housed in sheds that are typically bare and contain no natural light. Litter is on the floor so droppings are absorbed, and the floor is usually not cleaned until the chickens are taken to slaughter. Sitting in dirty litter can leave chickens with burns on their legs and feet, according to Compassion in World Farming. Their eyes and respiratory systems can also be damaged from the ammonia in the droppings.
Chipotle is not the only company looking to improve animal welfare standards. Shake Shack also announced new animal welfare standards this week. These also include goals for 2024 that align with GAP’s requirements. Shake Shack already sources hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, pork and chicken. It bans the housing of pigs in cruel gestation crates that limit the animal’s ability to turn around, and serves only dairy from cows raised without the growth hormone rBST/rBGH. It also only sources cage-free eggs as of last year, blowing past its goal for a cage-free egg supply by 2024.
A growing number of companies -- from fast-casual restaurants and their suppliers to consumer packaged goods giants -- are adopting better animal welfare standards. Confined housing systems for pigs and chickens are being phased out in the U.S. as a result. And that is a good thing for American farm animals.
Image credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.