Chicken Farmers of Canada says its standards that ensure welfare for broiler chickens are higher than those in a certification program that Tim Hortons and Burger King have announced they will use.
The two chains, part of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), recently announced that by 2024 they would buy chicken only from farmers certified by Global Animal Partnership (GAP), a U.S.-based program initiated in 2008 by Whole Foods Market.
“Our standard we feel is much higher,” said Derek Janzen, vice-chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada and a chicken farmer in Aldergrove, B.C.
“It’s science-based and it’s put together by people like veterinarians, people in the processing business and it’s actually been coded by NFACC (National Farm Animal Care Council.) We feel that we’ve got a very good program.
“GAP is developed basically by animal welfare or activist groups and it’s … different than the program, our animal care program, that we’ve developed in Canada.”
In a news release praising the policy change by RBI, Mercy for Animals said it would reduce the suffering of millions of chickens and is recognition that birds are abused during chicken production.
“They are bred to grow so unnaturally fast that their legs often can’t support the birds’ own body weight,” said Mercy for Animals.
“Many suffer from constant leg pain so severe they cannot stand, and so they spend nearly all their time sitting in their own waste. Continual contact with wet litter causes extreme feather loss and painful sores on the chickens’ bodies and feet.”
The animal welfare group provided video of the conditions described.
Janzen said the CFC rejects those descriptions and he questioned the source of the video.
“Frankly, we’re appalled at the things that they’re saying and the way that they’re trying to portray our chicken industry in Canada,” he said.
“To see the conditions that they’re portraying and say that that’s the norm in Canada with canned footage from who knows when or even where, it’s just disgusting.”
There are about 2,800 broiler chicken farms in Canada and an estimated 90 percent are family owned an operated, according to the CFC.
Results of a recent third-party audit of its mandatory animal welfare program, conducted by the National Sanitation Foundation, indicated that it has been “implemented effectively and maintained on an ongoing basis.”
Janzen said the independent audit should give consumers confidence in chicken welfare on Canadian farms.
“It has to bring some comfort on that level. We’re not policing ourselves. We’re bringing somebody else in, so when we say we’re doing a good job, we are doing a good job.”
Janzen said he hesitated to comment on BNI policies, noting all food chains are under pressure from animal welfare groups.
“I’m not sure what the motivation or justification is, especially given that we do have a rock solid program in place. I’m not sure why they would be looking for something different.”
In a response to Mercy for Animals, the CFC issued a release noting Canadian broiler chickens are not caged and density limits ensure they have room to roam. It also noted litter is replaced after every flock leaves the barn.