Whole Foods Chicken Certifier Upends Market With New Breed Rules

Standards cut out chickens comprising 90% of U.S. production


By Amelia Pollard, Leslie Patton, and Michael Hirtzer, Bloomberg†

November 22, 2021


The biggest chicken producers in the U.S. will have to overhaul their breeding programs in a matter of just a few years to meet tough new guidelines major customers are embracing, part of a movement to ensure birds are healthier and more humanely treated.


The Global Animal Partnership, an animal welfare certifier whose five-step method is championed by Amazon.com Inc.ís Whole Foods, is set to lower the number of breeds that meets its standards. According to people familiar with the process, itís virtually impossible for any conventional chicken breeds, which make up more than 90% of U.S. production, to make the cut due to their performance in a study that informed the results.


While the new rules donít go into effect until 2026, the move could drive changes in the industry with over 200 companies including Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc. and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. promising to transition to breeds that meet GAPís standards.


The interest in more humane chicken breeding has emerged as problems cropped up with commercial broilers in recent years. The chickens that most of the world eats grow at lightning speed and prodigiously convert feed into protein. Thatís made meat cheaper and more accessible to more people. However, high productivity had trade-offs. A two-year study commissioned by GAP had preliminary results seen by Bloomberg that concluded the worldís most ubiquitous chickens had poor welfare outcomes due to genetics. The birds sat for most of their lives, had more foot injuries and more problems like white strips of fat and tough, woody textures throughout their muscles. Their bodies grew faster at times than their organs, resulting in small lungs...


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