Better Chicken Commitment presents unreachable goal for many restaurants
In 2016, 125 national restaurant brands and 40 contract management foodservice providers—along with retailers, meal kit manufacturers and pet food makers—pledged to join the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC). Under the commitment, those who pledge agree to work toward sourcing their chicken from suppliers who meet BCC requirements (meeting specific environment modifications, harvesting method and broiler breeds). For a variety of reasons, very few of the restaurant companies that pledged to the BCC will meet the commitment deadlines, which begin in 2024. Among those reasons: the pandemic, which profoundly affected business health and reordered priorities for restaurants, supply chain providers and broiler producers.
Also a concern: a deeper dive into the BCC shows the practical applications inherent in the commitment have fundamental flaws that are counter to its stated intention that “by adopting the Better Chicken Commitment, companies signal to their customers that they are meeting rising expectations for animal welfare, sustainability, and food quality.”
The Better Chicken Commitment is led by a coalition of animal rights advocacy groups with a mission to end animal agriculture and transition consumers to a plant-based, vegan diet, according to Under Pressure, a report from the Animal Agriculture Alliance. BCC is not a consumer-driven initiative.
Restaurant and foodservice businesses, on the other hand, are completely consumer driven, and their business is to provide consumers the foods they want.
The National Chicken Council states, “If consumers are truly interested and willing to pay for chicken that was raised according to the Better Chicken Commitment standards, of which there is little evidence, they should be afforded the option. But that’s what it should be, one option, not 100% of sourced product.” Fulfilling the current BCC is not economically sustainable for the restaurant industry. It will significantly raise the price of chicken for consumers, its recommended approach to broiler production will not fulfill the current U.S. product demand, and the model is not more environmentally friendly.
Founded by the Humane Society of the United States and nine other animal rights advocacy organizations, the BCC is an unsubsidized “mandate” requiring those who voluntarily pledge to meet one of two versions of the commitment by the deadlines.
Under the commitment, those who pledge would need to source their chicken from suppliers who meet BCC requirements. Most importantly, the commitment requires those who sign on to use only slower-growing BCC-approved breeds by 2026.
These breeds and their growing conditions require significantly more resources (land, water, feed, production equipment, infrastructure) to produce the same amount of meat needed to meet current market demands and would ultimately cost consumers a significant premium.
According to the National Chicken Council’s 7 Things You Need to Know About the Better Chicken Commitment, if just a third of U.S. chicken farms increased their production time by two weeks (the standard for “slower-growing” chickens), it would require:
- 1 billion additional gallons of water annually
- Enough additional feed (corn/soybean meal) to fill 670,000 more tractor trailers
And it would produce nearly 29 billion lbs. of additional manure. The additional cost to producers to switch to slower-growing breeds is estimated at $9 billion.
Already an effective breeding model
The U.S. broiler industry currently has one of the smallest carbon footprints in all of animal agriculture, according to the NCC, and has lowered its environmental impact by 50% in the last 50 years while today raising billions more chickens.
“The U.S. chicken industry is already committed to chicken welfare,” says Dr. Philip Stayer, DVM, MS, ACPV of Dr. Phil Poultry Consulting, LLC, who spent 22 years as the corporate vet for Sanderson Farms (now Wayne Sanderson Farms).“All current livability, disease, flock condemnation, and bird health reflect that the national broiler flock is as healthy as it’s ever been,” he continues. “Most chicken companies use the NCC guidelines as a basis for their own and are routinely audited against them by third parties and customers.”
Bottom line: healthy chickens are good business.
According to the NCC: “Whether it’s traditionally raised chickens, slower-growing breeds, chickens raised without antibiotics or raised organic, consumers can choose products based on personal factors, including taste preference, personal values and affordability. “For decades, the U.S. chicken industry has evolved its products to meet ever-changing consumer preferences. Adapting and offering consumers more choices of what they want to eat has been the main catalyst of success for chicken producers. Not taking choices away.”
The restaurant industry will always deliver the products consumers demand, and consumer demand will dictate the timeline.