18 Apr 2013

McDonald’s backs animal welfare to satisfy customers

The fast food giant is investing in traceability as more consumers demand to know where their meat comes from. Campaigners hope other chains will follow suit.

Nearly one third of British farmed pigs come under Freedom Food standard

All pork served in UK branches of McDonald’s will now come from farms that meet the RSPCA’s Freedom Food standard.

Pig farmers who sign up to the animal charity’s scheme have to prove their herds are kept in spacious pens and meet standards for food, lighting and ventilation that exceed the minimum legal requirements.

The amount of pork stamped with the logo rose by 200 per cent between 2009 and 2012 and nearly a million more pigs came under the scheme in the same period.

Freedom Food says nearly one third of all British farmed pigs are now reared under conditions approved by the scheme.

Sales of products marketed using the logo rose by 17 per cent between 2010 and 2011, according to the Co-op’s latest report into ethical consumer markets.

McDonald’s told Channel 4 News the move was driven by long-term increased concern among consumers over animal welfare and traceability, but said the recent horsemeat scandal has sharpened customers’ interest in meat supply chains.

A spokesman said: “It’s not specifically a reaction to that, because this has been planned for over two years, but it is definitely linked to consumer preference. A lot of people are consistently interested in where our food comes from – whether it is locally and responsibly sourced.”

A McDonald’s poll of 2,000 people found that 73 per cent preferred to buy food from farms with higher welfare standards. But customers also said price remained a key influence on their decisions about what to buy.

That is one reason why the company says it will not pass on any rises in cost to the consumer as a result of the switch to Freedom Food and it sees the move as an investment.

This is impressive – it’s something to be admired. Compassion in World Farming

A spokesman for the campaign group Compassion in World Farming told us: “Compassion has been working in partnership with McDonalds since 2008 to introduce higher welfare standards throughout their supply chain. They have already introduced cage-free eggs across their entire European operation and we are delighted that they are now extending their welfare commitments to include pigs. This is impressive – it’s something to be admired.

“It’s important that global companies like McDonalds are responding to consumer demand and investing in higher animal welfare and we feel this is a very positive step moving forwards.”

The storm of publicity that surrounded the discovery of horsemeat in processed meat products in some UK supermarkets earlier this year has intensified public interest in how meat is sourced by retailers, and may be driving buying trends.

Last month the market research firm Kantor Worldpanel said sales of frozen beef burger sales fell by 43 per cent since the horsemeat revelations emerged, while a One Poll survey for the National Farmers Union found that more than 86 per cent of shoppers are now more likely to buy traceable British food.

The polling company YouGov found that public perception of the Morrisons and McDonald’s rose after they emerged untainted by the horsemeat revelations – in contrast to respective rivals Tesco and Burger King.

Morrisons, which traces all its meat from UK farms, saw sales of fresh meat soar as the scandal dominated the headlines.

And US-based fast food chain Chipotle, which now has five outlets in London, has just been given two awards by Compassion in World Farming – one of them for sourcing its meat from free range pigs and poultry.

Jacob Sumner, an American who now heads up the food operation for the chain in the UK, says sourcing local, sustainable ingredients has become a core commitment.

“Chipotle is seeking better food from using ingredients that… where possible are sustainably grown and naturally raised, with respect for the animals, the land and the farmers who produce the food.”

With this latest commitment from McDonalds, customers’ concern over the provenance of the food they eat is turning animal welfare into a commercial neccessity, not just a matter of ethics.