The battle for a better world for chickens just reached a tipping point

Late Friday afternoon, sandwich giant Subway announced a policy to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat in their US supply chain.

The commitment was quietly published on their website with little fanfare—but the consequences of it could not be more explosive. In fact, Subway’s pledge is no doubt a watershed moment that will shift the market irreversibly for the better, a game-changing development for the 9 billion chickens raised per year in the United States each year.

Why? Because of one important fact: Subway is the largest fast food restaurant in the country—and in fact the world.

With over 8,000 more restaurant locations than McDonald’s, the vast reach of Subway stores means the sandwich company’s influence over consumer and producer markets cannot be denied. In fact, Bloomberg recently reported Subway is the #1 most ubiquitous restaurant chain in the US (McDonald’s comes in at #2). And with a producer list that contains major players like Perdue, West Liberty Foods, Keystone, and Ed Miniat, Subway can be sure that its policy changes will provide the broader industry with the certainty it needs to to transform the way chickens are raised.

Subway’s commitment is clear: By 2024, in addition to improving environments and giving birds more space, the company will only use chicken breeds that are approved by Global Animal Partnership (GAP) as having higher welfare outcomes. In doing so, they are getting right to the root of conventional chicken production’s most significant problem. In short, their very genetics mean that birds are born to suffer.

Today’s chickens are made to grow so large, so fast, they can hardly walk, are prone to heart attacks, and some can’t even make it the short six weeks to slaughter. But Subway has committed to changing this cruel practice, and to giving these birds a better start. And by implementing this massive change, we are well on our way to making the conventional breeds of bird—and all the welfare horrors associated with them—a thing of the past.

While Subway may be the largest chain to step up, they are not the first. Their announcement follows several similar ones from companies like Burger King, Panera, TGI Fridays, and Red Robin, all of which have already committed to treat chickens better.

And Subway will not be the last. When the largest fast food chain makes a shift, you can expect the whole market to follow its lead. In the months to come, we will no doubt see an avalanche of commitments within the food industry. The companies smart enough to move to higher ground by matching or exceeding Subway’s commitment will almost certainly be rewarded in terms of market share for keeping pace with the trends.

And those that refuse to see the way the wind is blowing? They risk being buried and left behind by competitors willing to do the right thing.

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