McDonald's seeks improved animal welfare in UK
By Nigel Hunt
OXFORD (Reuters) - Animal welfare will become of growing importance for British consumers and restaurant chain McDonald's wants improved standards from its suppliers, the head of the company's UK business said on Friday.
"Animal welfare across the next couple of years will become a mass topic of discussion in the general public," Steve Easterbrook, chief executive officer of McDonald's Restaurants Ltd told delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference.
Easterbrook noted that an upcoming British television documentary to be aired this month was looking at chicken farming and such programs would encourage customers to look more closely at food and at food and farming practices.
McDonald's in Britain has served only free range eggs during the last 10 years and Easterbrook said the company was currently looking at providing canopy cover for chickens to encourage hens to range more.
He said the company also was working to improve pig rearing practices to allow them to behave more naturally so as to reduce tail biting ant to remove the need to routinely dock tails.
"We don't mind paying a fair price for that (higher animal welfare standards) and will pass it on appropriately if we believe it has provided added value (for customers)," he said.
Easterbrook said McDonald's British restaurants had led the move towards improved animal welfare but said such practices would spread across the company's European restaurants.
"I think the UK is to a large degree at the forefront...I do see a number of trends that do emanate in the UK rolling out across Europe," he said.
Easterbrook said the environment was also becoming an important factor in consumer buying preferences with the disposal of food contaminated waste a major challenge.
"There are no recycling companies of any scale in the UK which will collect food contaminated waste for recycling," Easterbrook said.
He said the company was testing an energy from waste scheme in Sheffield, England, under which non recyclable waste is turned into energy to power local homes and public buildings.
"It's clear to us already that the lack of infrastructure for recycling food contaminated waste is a problem the UK needs to get to grips with," he said.
Easterbrook said the company was also facing rising costs which it may have difficulty passing on to customers.
"Feed price rises have combined with energy rises to increase the cost of business considerably," he said.
Easterbrook said the company was generally reluctant to raise prices by more than the rate of inflation.
"We're also entering a period of real uncertainly in the economy generally so people are increasingly sensitive to price...which makes it absolutely the wrong time to pass on price increases," he said.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Peter Blackburn)