McDonald's Chicken Reforms

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

The American company McDonald's is trying to change the way farmers care for their chickens. McDonald's is ordering farmers who supply eggs to improve treatment of the birds.

The move shows the rising concern among animal rights activists and the public over how farm animals are treated. Some scientists also fear that the present methods of raising chickens increase the risk of diseases that can be spread to humans.

In the United States, the government and egg industry are considering ways to improve egg safety and the condition of chickens. The effort by McDonald's is the first of its kind by any major American food company. More than two percent of all eggs produced in the United States are served at public eating places operated by the McDonald's company.

Last year, an animal rights group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals began a campaign against McDonald's. PETA says it called the protest after two years of negotiations with the company that resulted in no changes.

Last month, McDonald's announced to egg producers new rules for raising chickens. The company plans to ban a method called forced molting. To force molting, farmers deny food and water to adult female chickens. This causes the hens to produce more eggs. The European Union has already banned forced molting. McDonald's plans to ban it by early next year.

The company also ordered its egg suppliers to increase the size of boxes where hens are kept. Under the new rules, each hen would have about four-hundred-sixty square centimeters of space. That would be fifty percent more room than the chickens now have.

McDonald's also asked its suppliers to stop removing beaks from chickens. Industry officials say the beaks are removed to prevent the birds from injuring each other.

The egg industry warns that the new rules could increase the price of eggs. It says the new space requirements will be the most costly change.

A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals praised the new rules. However, he said the added space still does not give chickens enough room. The group says its campaign against McDonald's will continue until chickens are no longer forced into small boxes.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English