Darden Restaurants, Inc. today announced an animal welfare policy that encourages higher welfare outcomes for farm animals in its supply chain. As part of the policy, Darden intends to form an external Animal Welfare Advisory Council that the Company will leverage to continually ensure its animal welfare program is based on best available science and industry-wide practices, including developments in outcomes measurement and reporting.

“After a thorough and thoughtful process, which included extensive benchmarking and input from a variety of stakeholders, we are adopting an Animal Welfare Policy to articulate Darden’s position and values around the treatment of animals in our supply chain,” says Susan Connelly, senior vice president of Communications and Corporate Affairs for Darden. “Today’s announcement builds on Darden’s Food Principles, which outline our commitment to our guests in the areas of sourcing, food safety, sustainability and animal welfare.”

Improving Animal Welfare Outcomes

Darden’s Animal Welfare Policy encourages higher welfare outcomes for farm animals in its supply chain. This includes improved outcomes in the animals’ physical and mental well-being such as increased mobility, increased displays of natural behaviors, reduced injury and mortality rates, and reduced stress and fear.

“Taking an outcomes-based approach fosters partnership with producers,” says Kristine Young, manager of sustainability for Darden. “By focusing on the health of the animal, we can help ensure improvements to overall welfare are achieved in line with best available science and production practices.”

Darden has identified five priority areas that it believes represent the greatest opportunity for improving animal welfare outcomes in its supply chain. The Company, working with its suppliers, industry peers and its Animal Welfare Advisory Council, will define metrics in 2020 with the goal that its suppliers will contribute to measureable, continuous improvements in these priority areas by 2025:

  • Humane Housing
  • Avoidance of Pain
  • Slaughter Practices
  • Farm Animal Transportation
  • Responsible Use of Antibiotics

Animal Welfare Commitments

Darden also provided the following updates with respect to its commitments for specific proteins:

  • Poultry: Darden is committed to purchasing chicken raised without the use of medically important antibiotics by 2023 and will continue to work with suppliers on monitoring responsible antibiotic usage. For all proteins, Darden requires its suppliers to comply with the FDA guidance that medically important antibiotics no longer be used with farm animals for growth purposes, and that all shared-class antibiotics (i.e., those used for both humans and animals) be used only to treat, prevent and control disease in farm animals under the supervision of a veterinarian.
  • Pork: Since 2016, Darden has committed to work with pork suppliers to limit the use of gestation crates for housing pregnant sows, with a goal to source only gestation-crate free pork by 2025. The majority of our suppliers today have made a commitment to housing improvements.
  • Eggs: 100 percent of all egg products purchased by Darden are sourced from cage-free housing systems.

“Using an outcomes-based strategy for assessing and improving animal welfare is an emerging approach that is garnering attention scientifically and from animal welfare organizations,” says Dr. Janice Swanson, director of Animal Welfare and professor at Michigan State University. “An outcomes-based approach focuses on achieving an expected welfare outcome for the animal(s) rather than adherence to a rigid standard. This approach can offer more options to ensure the humane care of farm animals, especially when there are significant design differences between housing systems. Darden is to be commended for implementing an animal welfare program and employing progressive approaches to assure animal welfare in their supply chain.”

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