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New York’s comptroller wants McDonald’s to treat chickens better

Overseer of the state's pension fund, a major shareholder, says the burger chain isn’t following rivals’ lead on chicken treatment.
Photograph courtesy of McDonald's Corp.

A major McDonald’s shareholder wants the company to treat its chickens better.

Thomas DiNapoli, the New York State Comptroller, urged the company in a letter last month to improve its chicken welfare policy, arguing that it “lags behind its competitors,” such as Burger King, Subway, Jack in the Box, Sonic and others.

“McDonald’s risk lagging behind its competitors and misaligning its practices with consumer demand,” wrote DiNapoli, who as comptroller is the trustee of the New York State pension fund owns nearly $344 million worth of McDonald’s shares. The letter was addressed to McDonald’s chairman, Enrique Hernandez, and CEO Steve Easterbrook.

“Additionally, McDonald’s chicken welfare policy has been subject to significant media coverage and has generated negative publicity. The company has also been the target for organizing campaigns, negative social media traffic and protests at several of its offices.”

Bloomberg first reported the letter on Friday.

In a statement, McDonald’s said it announced a policy establishing eight global commitments that “will measurably improve chicken welfare across our supply chain.”

That includes requiring chickens be raised in environments that promote natural behaviors, implementing monitoring systems to gather welfare indicators, establishing third-party audits and creating an advisory council to guide the company’s strategy.

“We have worked with our suppliers, NGOs, academics and industry experts to advance the sustainability of the chicken served at our restaurants,” the company said. “We believe this outcome-based approach provides the most comprehensive way forward to measurably improve chicken welfare.”

McDonald’s has been working to improve its image in part by pushing its supply chain to be more sustainable and improve welfare of farm animals. It vowed to use cage-free eggs by 2025, and also committed to cut the use of antibiotics.

But animal rights activists don’t think the company has gone far enough with its efforts. In June, the Humane Society of the United States, which has worked with a number of restaurant chains on improving animal welfare, kicked off an “Unhappy Meals” campaign to highlight its chicken supply chain.

The group now has a supporter in DiNapoli, who pushed McDonald’s to join other food companies in mandating chicken suppliers implement standards recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the Global Animal Partnership.

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