Denny’s CEO understands motive of animal rights activists

As the leader of the restaurant chain speaks at Wall Street Journal World Food Forum, protesters outside the venue say the company isn’t doing enough to address animal well-being.

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Denny’s President and CEO Kelli Valade says she and others within her company understand that those who protest the company’s animal welfare practices are not nearly as concerned about the well-being of farm animals as they are putting an end to animal agriculture.

Valade was one of the speakers at the Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum in Chicago on June 25-26, and while the event was going on, protesters were outside the venue to express their views that the chain is lagging behind its peers on the welfare front, particularly when it comes to the use of gestation crates in pork production, a practice the animal rights lobby views as bad.

Jeff Pigott, vice president of industry relations for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) told Valade he was concerned that “the long-term game plan of many of these groups like the folks across the street yesterday is not improved welfare conditions, but the elimination of animal agriculture.”

He also told her he was concerned that those intentions were under-reported in both the food media and the general media. Pigott asked if she and her “peers in restaurant leadership” were aware of activists’ long-term goals, and if she had any sense as to why the situation wasn’t widely reported.

Valade said, at minimum, she and others within the Denny’s leadership understood the situation.

“There is truth to everything you just mentioned. I can’t speak for my peers, but we understand that,” she said.

Kelli ValadeKelli ValadeCourtesy PR Newswire

Denny’s dedication to animal welfare

Kathryn Dill, who moderated the session featuring Valade, asked the CEO early in the session to address the protestors in Chicago.

Valade said she was aware of the protestors, calling their presence and their message, “unfortunate.”

She does not feel like Denny’s lags behind its competitors with the humane treatment of animals, but she did acknowledge that the company historically could have been more dedicated to that. That situation is changing, she said.

“We actually have made a lot of commitments. We are committed to the highest possible welfare of animals. We are committed to the humane treatment of animals,” she said.

Elaborating on that dedication to welfare, Valade said the company works with both suppliers and farmers on welfare matters. Denny’s also just established an animal welfare council, which it relies on for “advice and counsel.”

She also said Denny’s is “about to” fund new research on animal welfare matters.

“We’re absolutely committed to making a difference there,” Valade said.

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