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Fast-food chain Wendy's Co. is changing the way it treats chickens and pigs used in its food in an effort to be more humane.
The company's animal welfare council said Friday that one of its chicken suppliers, O.K. Foods Inc. of Ft. Smith, Ark., has started using a low-atmospheric pressure system that renders the chickens unconscious before the birds are handled by plant workers. The process, known as LAPS, is criticized by some animal welfare groups but replaces the industry standard practice of stunning chickens with electricity.
Wendy's said it is the first quick-service restaurant chain to back the system, which it deemed as a major improvement to industry standards. It urged other chicken producers to embrace the practice.
The company did not disclose what percentage of its chicken comes from O.K. Foods.
Wendy's also said that it working with its U.S. and Canadian pork suppliers to eliminate the use of sow gestation stalls over time. Animal rights groups say the tightly-packed stalls are inhumane, but pork producers say the larger stalls increase labor and food costs.
However, several major pork producers have agreed to phase out gestation crates and tight pens and switch to larger, more open pens as sentiment about the practice has changed recently. Major pork buyer McDonald's Corp. announced in February that it would phase out crates that tightly confine pregnant sows in a move that was predicted to be a major shift for the industry.
Wendy's, based in Dublin, Ohio, is the second-largest burger chain in the U.S. and operates more than 6,500 restaurants around the globe.
The company is trying to rejuvenate its image as a higher-end fast-food chain. It is updating stores, revamping its menu and making other efforts to reinvent itself and move on from a failed combination with the Arby's chain.
Shares of Wendy's fell 5 cents to $4.94 in early afternoon trading.