- Darden, which owns Olive Garden, has adopted a new animal welfare policy encouraging better conditions for farm animals in its supply chain, according to a company press release.
- The restaurant company will create an Animal Welfare Advisory Council to oversee the policy's implementation and ensure that its adhering to industry practices and using the most current and accurate science.
- The policy identifies five areas suppliers must improve by 2025, including humane housing, avoidance of pain, slaughter practices, farm animal transportation and the responsible use of antibiotics.
As consumers show more interest in learning about how their food is produced, animal welfare is becoming a larger concern, with roughly 60% more worried about the issue than they were previously, according to a study by Packaged Facts. This gives restaurants a big incentive to show that these concerns matter by taking action.
Bringing better living conditions for livestock to Darden's supply chain will garner goodwill with welfare conscious consumers and reinvigorate new interest in the restaurant. Through its new program, it will purchase chicken raised without the use of medically important antibiotics by 2023, source pork products from suppliers that do not use gestation crates to confine pregnant sows by 2025 and continue to source all egg products from cage-free producers.
Darden joins a growing list of restaurants wanting to provide better conditions for livestock animals, but so far fast food chains have been the primary adopters of animal welfare policies. McDonald's said it will start phasing out antibiotics in its beef products, creating reduction targets in 2020 and reporting on progress in 2022. The fast food chain has already taken out preservatives and fake coloring, and removed artificial preservatives from its chicken in 2016. Wendy's also is reducing its use of antibiotics in beef, and Chick-fil-A is on track to reach its goal of reducing antibiotics in its chicken by the end of the year.
On the casual dining front, The Cheesecake Factory plans to eliminate pork used in gestation crates by 2020 and is switching to using cage-free eggs. TGI Fridays, P.F. Chang's and Denny's also said they will switch to cage-free eggs within the next six to seven years.
Animal welfare improvements in the food system have largely been driven by state laws or ballot measures, and 12 states have banned some or all forms of animal confinement. While committing to better treatment of animals has placated many consumers' welfare concerns, it still may not be enough in the long term. Domino's received a failing grade from the World Animal Protection in January about its chicken welfare policies, and Burger King, Starbucks, Subway, McDonald's, KFC Pizza Hut and Nando's didn't fare much better. More will need to be done to address ongoing consumer concerns.