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KFC first UK fast food chain to commit to new chicken welfare standards

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent
a car parked in front of a building: KFC’s chicken sales account for only 4% of the UK total, with supermarkets processing most sales. © REX/Shutterstock KFC’s chicken sales account for only 4% of the UK total, with supermarkets processing most sales.

KFC is to become the first UK fast food chain to sign up to new European welfare standards for farmed chickens, in an attempt to tackle growing concerns about inhumane conditions in the intensive and large-scale production of meat.

The move by the America-owned chain – 18 months after the blueprint was unveiled – will put pressure on rivals McDonald’s and Burger King, as well as large supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s to follow suit.

Supermarkets, restaurant chains and hotel groups have all been urged to commit to the so-called European Chicken Commitment, which represents the first time a single set of requirements has been agreed on across the continent by a large coalition of European animal protection groups, including the RSPCA.

Video: KFC Might Serve Plant-Based Chicken in the Future (Buzz60)

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KFC’s UK and Ireland business said it will work closely with suppliers and NGOs to raise the minimum level of welfare standards across the industry by 2026. Its move will cover its sourcing of chicken in the UK and Europe, which make up the vast majority of its supplies, though it also buys a small amount of chicken from Thailand and Brazil.

The new requirements include stricter auditing processes, reducing stocking density to give birds more space in barns, and investing in environmental “enrichment” which includes providing perches, pecking objects such as straw and vegetables, and natural daylight.

A closed sign outside a KFC restaurant near Ashford, Kent, as the fast food outlet has been forced to close a raft of stores after a new delivery contract with DHL resulted in chicken shortages across the country. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images A closed sign outside a KFC restaurant near Ashford, Kent, as the fast food outlet has been forced to close a raft of stores after a new delivery contract with DHL resulted in chicken shortages across the country. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

In arguably the biggest step to help curb some of the cruellest aspects of the business which sees fast-grown, over-bred birds collapsing under their own weight, the new standard stipulates a pledge to purchase slower-growing breeds.

KFC advertising their new type of fries on a wet day in Leytonstone in East London, United Kingdom. Leytonstone is an area of East London, and part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. (photo by Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images) © Mike Kemp KFC advertising their new type of fries on a wet day in Leytonstone in East London, United Kingdom. Leytonstone is an area of East London, and part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. (photo by Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images)

In the UK sales of red meat have fallen in recent years, but chicken – seen as a “healthy” meat – has seen sales rise.

Kentucky Friend Chicken (KFC) in London's Leicester Square.   (Photo by Ian West - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Images Kentucky Friend Chicken (KFC) in London's Leicester Square. (Photo by Ian West - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

KFC’s Imposter Burger – a vegan patty made from Quorn and intended to replicate chicken – sold out last month in the limited number of outlets stocking it.

Although KFC is the largest fast food chicken chain in the UK – using an estimated 60 million chickens every year in its 900-plus outlets – its UK and Ireland sales account for only 4% of total chicken sales in the UK, with the lion’s share through supermarkets.

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 20:  In this photo illustration the KFC logo is pictured besides a selection of chicken pieces on February 20, 2018 in Bristol, England. KFC has been forced to close hundred of its outlets as a shortage of chicken, due to a failure at the company's new delivery firm DHL, has disrupted the fast-food giant's UK operation and is thought to be costing the fast food chain £1million a day.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) © 2018 Getty Images BRISTOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 20: In this photo illustration the KFC logo is pictured besides a selection of chicken pieces on February 20, 2018 in Bristol, England. KFC has been forced to close hundred of its outlets as a shortage of chicken, due to a failure at the company's new delivery firm DHL, has disrupted the fast-food giant's UK operation and is thought to be costing the fast food chain £1million a day. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Paula MacKenzie, general manager of KFC UK & Ireland, said: “Our customers care about improving the lives of the chicken we buy. That’s why we’re adding our voice to the campaign and encouraging others to do the same – because to inspire real change and provoke meaningful action, we need the industry to move with us.”

The Humane League has been lobbying for McDonald’s – which uses large volumes of chicken in its nuggets and burgers – to sign up to the commitment too. Its managing director Vicky Bond said: “We welcome KFC’s move, but it highlights just what a laggard McDonald’s is. This will benefit the lives of millions of chickens every year throughout their supply chain. We implore the rest of this sector and other food companies to follow in their footsteps.”

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A McDonald’s spokesperson said it had its own scheme to improve the welfare and health of chickens in its supply chain, and had set up a council of experts to advise them on the matter.

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