Poultry Pain: NY Comptroller DiNapoli Warns McDonald’s Over Chicken Care

The fast food giant must improve its treatment of chickens, or the state pension fund will sell its $300 million in Golden Arches shares.

If McDonald’s doesn’t start treating its chickens right, one of the largest US pension plans might pull its mammoth stake from the company.

In a recent letter, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli told executives of the fast food chain to raise its standards for the raising and slaughtering of its chickens. If the company doesn’t comply, he warned, the $291 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund would consider divesting its $300 million-plus holdings in McDonald’s.

The ability to have “responsible animal welfare practices are hallmarks of a company with a sound, sustainable, and profitable long-term strategy,” wrote DiNapoli.

New York Common has not responded for comment.

The move follows the “Unhappy Meals” campaign by the Humane Society of the United States, which uses celebrity endorsements from the likes of actors Kristin Bell and Joaquin Phoenix, and now seeks allies among public pension programs. The group also aired a commercial noting that rivals Burger King and Subway are changing their practices. Their views on McDonald’s chicken operations can be found at UnhappyMeals.com.

The campaign calls for the transition to more humane breeding and slaughter procedures. The restaurant titan has changed some of its procedures in recent years, such as making all eggs cage-free by 2025 and ending the practice of keeping pigs in small crates by 2022.

“Without adopting or aligning its chicken welfare policies to widely accepted best practices, McDonald’s risks lagging behind its competitors and misaligning its practices with consumer demand,” DiNapoli wrote. DiNapoli asked that McDonald’s adopt standards akin to the Royal Society of Cruelty to Animals or the Global Animal Partnership. This would protect the company, and therefore its investors from backlash, and it’s good for the livestock, too.

In the letter, DiNapoli said the standards were not only “important from an animal welfare perspective,” but they also make “business sense.” The comptroller noted the growing consumer need for better animal care and McDonald’s snowballing string of bad press regarding the issue. He demanded the home of the Big Mac, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, submit a detailed response chronicling “what the company is doing to build on its recent chicken welfare policy and align it with widely accepted best practices like RSPCA and GAP.”

The Humane Society seconded the comptroller, adding that McDonald’s practices continue “while its competitors take steps to improve their treatment,” and that practice “certainly should cause concern for anyone invested in the company.”

Although New York State has not yet received a response from McDonald’s, CIO obtained a statement from the corporation that noted an eight-part policy announced last October which “will measurably improve chicken welfare across our supply chain.” This includes raising chickens in larger quarters, adding farm monitoring systems, third-party audits, and forming a panel of experts to help with the changes.

“For more than a decade, we have worked with our suppliers, NGOs, academics, and industry experts to advance the sustainability of the chicken served at our restaurants,” the statement read. “We believe this outcome-based approach provides the most comprehensive way forward to measurably improve chicken welfare.”

DiNapoli’s letter acknowledged the proposed changes, but dismissed the policy as it “does not align with widely accepted best practices supported by science and rigorous research, and lags behind its competitors.”

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