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New McDonald’s chicken requirements could impact farmers

New McDonald’s chicken requirements could impact farmers

Chicken farms may adapt their operations based on processor requirements

By Diego Flammini
News Reporter

A new set of McDonald’s requirements for its chicken could mean changes are coming for producers.

But before farmers make any operational decisions, they need to ensure they’re in compliance with national animal care regulations, according to Mike Dungate, former executive director of the Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) who is now serves the organization in an advisory role.

“A farmer is obliged to follow the CFC animal program,” he told today. “That’s a mandatory program that’s audited each year. And the (CFC animal program) is audited third-party by NSF (Canada).”

McDonald’s outlined a number of commitments it would like to achieve with its chicken supply by 2024. And these commitments apply to a number of countries including Canada, the United States, France, Italy and Spain.

The requirements include sourcing chickens that are raised with improved welfare outcomes, requiring chickens to be raised in housing environments that promote natural behaviour, and measuring effects of different inputs including lighting and genetics.

And when large corporations make these kinds of demands, it can create uncertainty in the ag industry, Dungate said.

“The challenge from McDonald’s or anyone coming out making a statement is (that) it starts to create confusion. We’ve tried to put the CFC program on every farm to give confidence to our customers that it doesn’t matter what farm in Canada you get your chicken from, we’re telling you it’s going to meet a certain standard.”

When restaurant chains demand supply changes, it means the processor may have to change its requirements as well, he explained.

And if a processor alters its standards to meet its customer’s standards, that’s where farmers could have to make changes on their own farm, says Dungate.

“If a customer has a contract with Maple Leaf Foods and three years later they change that contract to Maple Lodge Farms, a farmer might change what the animal care program on their farm has to be,” he said. “Does the farmer have … to keep adjusting a program from one customer to another? What if the farmer is selling to one processor but the processor has 20 different customers who have slightly different programs?”

One way to navigate these types of demands is through a national recognition program, which CFC is working on, according to Dungate.

“Canada has these kinds of programs on food safety but not on animal care, and (CFC) is arguing for it,” he said. “Having talked to Restaurants Canada, we know the customers would see value in (such a program) because it would give them assurance and consistency.”