McDonald’s Can’t Fool Its Shareholders: Big Chicken Is Bad Business
By Taylor Ford
Golden arches tainted with blood. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the "Headquarters of Cruelty." Dozens of protesters. Horrified passersby.
These spectacles are what McDonald's employees saw outside their office windows during the company's annual shareholder meeting at its Chicago headquarters in May 2018. As part of a massive coalition campaign, animal advocates staged stunts and protests on the street to raise concerns about animal cruelty in the McDonald's supply chain, drawing the public's attention and troubling the company's executives.
This year, McDonald's broke with its longstanding tradition of holding its annual shareholder meeting in Chicago, instead electing to meet in the security of a hotel at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport — perhaps because it couldn't handle the pressure from protesters advocating for animals and other ethical issues. By moving its shareholder meeting to a more exclusive location, McDonald's made one thing clear: It wants to keep its shareholders far away from its loudest critics.
Unfortunately for McDonald's, simply moving its meeting isn't enough to hide the truth from its investors. McDonald's shareholders are paying attention to animal welfare issues — and they are eager to hold the company accountable to higher standards.
For example, last August, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which at the time held more than $300 million in McDonald's stock, sent McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook a warning about the company's treatment of chickens. DiNapoli called on McDonald's to "establish and maintain responsible animal welfare practices," as recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Global Animal Partnership, by 2024.
Some of these practices include switching to slower-growing breeds of birds, reducing stocking density to a maximum of six pounds per square foot and providing environmental enrichments to allow for natural behavior.
DiNapoli stated that, "Although these standards are important from an animal welfare perspective, they also make business sense." As DiNapoli and other investors understand, these improvements would address mounting consumer concerns about where their food comes from, and would dramatically reduce the suffering of chickens raised for McDonald's menu items.
This relief could not come soon enough. For the intelligent, sensitive chickens destined to be McNuggets and other menu items, their lives are full of abuse and suffering and are devoid of natural behavior.
Today, chickens are bred to grow four times faster and considerably larger than in the 1950s, when industrial chicken production was just beginning. In the span of just 48 days — a tiny fraction of their natural lifespan — baby chickens reach a gargantuan size. The issue is so severe that if humans grew at a rate similar to McDonald's chickens, we would weigh 660 pounds at just two months old. Mere infants.
This rapid growth makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for many chickens to walk. Additionally, these chickens are constrained to overcrowded, dark, unnatural and barren barns, causing painful conditions, including horrifying ammonia burns on their chest and legs from the waste and sickness permeating the space. These are the brutal conditions that make up the tens of millions of chickens' lives in McDonald's supply chain.
Despite this grim existence, chickens raised for meat are afforded virtually no legal protections. Until recently, very little progress had been made on their behalf.
Luckily, pressure from investors, consumers and nonprofits is bringing new momentum to the fight for change. Recent studies indicate that even despite potential increased costs, consumers want animals to be treated better. One study found that nearly eight out of 10 Americans believe food companies should improve their chicken welfare standards.
This issue is even on the radar of the National Chicken Council, a trade association that represents the interests of the U.S. chicken industry. A study conducted in 2018 by the trade group found that three-quarters of consumers are concerned about how chickens are raised for meat. When concerned citizens bring animal welfare improvements to the ballot, voters rush to support them. Residents of Massachusetts and California overwhelmingly voted to pass strong bills to ban the extreme confinement of animals raised for food.
McDonald's stands out in its refusal to join this momentum, but it hasn't always been the laggard. In 2015, animal protection organizations praised McDonald's commitment to end its support for battery cage farms and transition its egg supply to 100 percent cage-free.
Only three years later, however, rather than take a bold step forward, McDonald's has released a vague and misleading statement that falls far short of what its competitors are doing. More than 130 food companies have all committed to policies that detail concrete improvements for chickens.
In response to McDonald's lack of action, six organizations — Mercy for Animals, the Humane League, Compassion in World Farming, Compassion Over Killing, World Animal Protection and Animal Equality — set their targets on the fast food giant last year and launched a public campaign that kicked off with a full-page ad in The New York Times.
Since this launch, activists have staged dozens of protests nationwide, held regular events outside McDonald's headquarters in Chicago, and unleashed an onslaught of ad campaigns that include a billboard in Times Square and TV ads saturating the Chicago market. A petition targeting McDonald's has now gathered over 300,000 signatures from concerned consumers, but has yet to receive one response from McDonald's.
McDonald's CEO Easterbrook would be wise to get ahead of this issue before more shareholders and critical investors raise their concerns. They know — as do McDonald's own customers — that big chicken is bad business.
Taylor Ford is director of campaigns for The Humane League, an international nonprofit ending the abuse of animals worldwide. The Humane League has been ranked "Best in America" by the Independent Charities of America and named a "Top Charity" by the charity navigator Animal Charity Evaluators. Follow the Humane League on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to take action for animals and make a difference.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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