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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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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