Following weeks of controversy and a call by local animal rights groups to cut ties with UCF, Aramark has become the first major food service company to “to call on its suppliers to implement additional humane conditions for the treatment of broiler chickens.”
Aramark boasts its current welfare policy, which they say “requires its suppliers to provide an environment consistent with the ‘Five Freedoms’ of animal welfare developed by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee,” a list of five stipulations that cover the diet, living conditions and slaughter of livestock. But animal groups like The Humane League claimed that the company’s suppliers were not complying with the policy.
The commitment calls on suppliers, like Tyson Foods, to reducing stocking density; rendering chickens unconscious before shackling them; and “[p]roviding chickens with enriched environments including natural light, hay bales and perches.” It also calls for joint evaluation with animal rights organizations in the next year of issues related to living conditions. These standards are to be met by 2024.
But the lead up to the announcement is not without controversy. In late September, The Humane League launched a campaign against Aramark regarding its treatment of broiler chickens. At UCF, Emilia Kosonen, a student coordinator representing the group launched a Change.org petition calling on UCF to cut ties with the company, which has since received almost 5,000 signatures. A Youtube video also surfaced in early October that showed graphic images and footage of chickens being mistreated and slaughtered, which The Humane League claimed to be representative of current practices at factory farms.
“Aramark has absolutely no minimum standard for how the chickens it purchases are raised or slaughtered,” she claims in the petition. “That means that the company buys chickens from farms where they’re crammed by the tens of thousands into unsanitary, dark barns. The buildup of their own waste creates toxic fumes that burn the chickens’ legs and body.”
She continued: “The breed of chickens used on these farms have been manipulated to grow so heavy so fast that their bones and organs can’t keep up. With crippled legs and failing hearts, many die prematurely.”
Since the announcement, she has praised Aramark and its competitor Compass Group and called on supporters to reach out to Sodexo, another major food service company, and demand the same commitment. Still, she said, the ideal end goal is to “kick Aramark off campus.”
“It’s made an impact, and now that Aramark has finally listened to the demands of consumers at least for this cause, I think it’s a sign to keep going,” she said.
Kosonen also said that she plans on lobbying Student Government to introduce more vegetarian options to UCF’s dining halls.
On campus, the next step seems to be to partner with like-minded organizations to keep pressuring Aramark in regard to its food and labor practices. The Student Labor Action Project, which has criticized Aramark’s monopoly on student dining and its labor practices, supports The Humane League’s current campaign and plans to work with the group and Kosonen in the future.
“Student Labor Action Project has been informing the campus about Aramark for about a year now due to their treatment of workers and near monopoly they have received with their contract extension, so it was natural for us to invite the Humane League to speak at and participate in our events when we heard about their campaign,” SLAP said in a statement.
Karen Cutler, Aramark’s vice president of corporate communications, said in an e-mail that the decision had been in the works since last summer and was made with the help of the Humane Society and Compassion in World Farming as well as their Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Panel, a group of industry experts and academics that advise the company regarding animal welfare.
Over the last month, the back and forth between Aramark and The Humane League provided two contradicting stories. Aramark released a lengthy statement in response to the videos and claims being put out by the group, claiming that the campaign was being dishonest and making it clear that the company itself does not own or operate chicken farms. They also included testimonials and awards from the Humane Society and Compassion in World Farming.
Perhaps its most interesting claim, however, is the suggestion that the campaign against them was retaliation for consulting other animal rights organizations.
“In 2015, we offered to work with The Humane League and after agreeing, the group inexplicably launched an unwarranted attack campaign,” the statement said. “Now they are angry we partner constructively with other animal welfare groups and are spreading lies to pressure Aramark into joining their organization.”
When Knight News reached out to Aramark to clarify this claim, Cutler referred to a campaign The Humane League launched last year regarding a transition to cage-free eggs. They also emphasized that Aramark has worked with other groups.
“We had a meeting scheduled with them last year to discuss timelines for transition of cage-free eggs,” Cutler said in an e-mail. “Instead of meeting to discuss how we could work together productively, they launched a campaign. This year they launched another campaign around broiler chickens. We have been working productively with the Humane Society and Compassion in World Farming for several years, and have received awards from both organizations as I’m sure you saw on the site.”
The Humane League’s Corporate Relations Manage Chris Liptrot, however, claims that the opposite is true: “The Humane League has tried in earnest to open a private dialogue with Aramark about this issue beginning in the Spring of 2016. Every one of our requests to meet to discuss broiler welfare went completely ignored by Aramark’s leadership for about 6 months. Aramark failed to respond to a single email, meanwhile both of their major competitors – Sodexo and Compass Group – partnered with us on global policies to convert to sourcing exclusively cage-free eggs in every country they operate in around the world. While it is always our policy to resolve these issues privately, if a company refuses to engage in a dialogue we have no choice but to launch a public campaign.”
Neither The Humane League and Aramark allowed Knight News to review correspondences between each other to confirm either claim.