Mercy For Animals validates notion it hassles restaurants

Mercy For Animals said it would launch a campaign against TGI Fridays, but backed out after its “Corporate Engagement team” met with leaders of the chain.

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TGI Fridays has had recent dialogue with representatives from Mercy For Animals concerning the Better Chicken Commitment, but has it heard from customers on the same topic?
TGI Fridays has had recent dialogue with representatives from Mercy For Animals concerning the Better Chicken Commitment, but has it heard from customers on the same topic?
Courtesy TGI Fridays

Often when a restaurant or other business makes a commitment related to sourcing animal protein raised in accordance with some sort of perceived animal welfare benefit, the company will say it is due to consumer demand.

These pledges will involve things like cage-free eggs, gestation-crate-free pork, or broilers raised according to the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC).

But those in the animal agriculture community are justifiably skeptical of the claims of consumer demand. Case in point: It has been quite noticeable over recent years that many grocery store consumers prefer to purchase lower-priced eggs laid by caged hens than pay more for cage-free eggs.

Many of us at industry events have heard or been part of discussions about how these purchase pledges are more motivated by pressure from animal rights groups than by actual consumer requests. A few years ago, I even point-blank asked a representative of an animal rights group if that were the case. He didn’t deny it, but he did shift away and reiterate that consumers want animal-welfare friendly food.

However, another group, Mercy For Animals, didn’t have to tell me directly that they were hassling restaurant chains to sign and adhere to purchase pledges that align with their beliefs. You could read between the lines.

TGI Fridays and Better Chicken Commitment

On September 7, I received an embargoed press release about how Mercy for Animals would launch a nationwide campaign, called TGI Failure, pointing out that TGI Fridays had failed to be transparent with its customers about whether it is keeping its animal welfare promises related to the BCC.

Normally, I don’t have any problems with adhering to a news embargo, but this really rubbed me wrong because the day the media was cleared to publish news related to the campaign was September 13, the same day the TGI Failure campaign was to be launched.

So essentially, it seemed like Mercy For Animals wanted to blindside TGI Fridays, and the organization wanted the media to be complicit with that ambush. Still, I complied with the embargo. In discussing the TGI Failure campaign with a colleague, he pointed out that it appeared TGI Fridays had been transparent.

On its Corporate Responsibility webpage, dated August 7, TGI Fridays stated: “The marketplace of GAP certified suppliers has not developed as robustly as necessary to supply GAP certified chicken and other animal products. While we encourage our suppliers to become GAP certified, we also recognize other animal welfare certifications that help improve animal welfare outcomes but, may not necessarily be with some GAP standards. These other certifications indicate important progress toward our goals of improved welfare for chickens.

“In the U.S. for 2022, 45% of our chicken purchases are American Humane certified which indicates important progress toward our animal welfare goals. For instance, both GAP standards and American Humane standards require improved space allocations, improved environmental standards for litter, lighting and enrichments, and third-party auditing. Additionally, another 37% of chicken purchases are third-party audited to meet National Chicken Council welfare standards which, like GAP standards, require improved space allocations and certain environmental improvements. In total, more than 80% of our U.S. chicken purchases meet one or more of our animal welfare goals for chicken detailed above.”

So, it seemed to both of us that TGI Fridays wasn’t keeping any secrets.

The arrival of September 13

I didn’t work on day the campaign was supposed to be launched, but when I returned the next day, I searched my email and on various websites to read about the TGI Failure campaign.

I didn’t find a thing, so I reached out to the same Mercy for Animals representative who sent me the embargoed press release.

The response I received read: “Mercy For Animals' Corporate Engagement team met with TGI Fridays this week and has given them until the end of this week to publish their progress toward the BCC components. I can give you an update early next week about whether TGI Fridays has been transparent with their progress, or if we will be moving forward with launching the campaign.”

And this person kept the promise of giving me an update, which read: “After years of silence, TGI Fridays met with the Mercy For Animals’ corporate engagement team to discuss chicken-welfare progress reporting, having learned about Mercy For Animals’ planned campaign and demonstrations. Since the discussions, TGI Fridays has committed to publishing progress and a roadmap toward fulfilling its Better Chicken Commitment policy and updated its website to state it would report progress by October 1, 2023. This positive step forward led Mercy For Animals to hold off on the campaign launch to give the company time to follow through on this promise.”

I will say that if TGI Fridays promised to source chicken raised in accordance with the BCC, it should do so to the best of its ability, which it appears it is doing or at least getting close to doing.

But I will also say that those above-referenced emails look much more like testimony of how an animal rights group hassled a restaurant chain than it does customers demanding a change in the production methods of the chicken TGI Fridays sources. Wouldn’t you agree?

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