The company endorses the adoption of controlled atmosphere stunning of broilers for the entire foodservice industry.

ST. LOUIS – Panera Bread announced on Dec. 20 a company-wide plan to improve the welfare of broiler chickens used in its supply chain by 2024 while also updating its progress on reducing the use of antibiotics in products on the menus of its Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread Co. menus.

In partnership with the Global Animal Partnership, the company said in a statement it intends to work with experts and stakeholders involved with the handling of broiler chickens, including producers and “with the help of other market participants,” to achieve cost-effective solutions to achieve four goals for the entire restaurant industry by the 2024 target. The goals address utilizing new broiler breeds known to have higher welfare outcomes; providing broilers with more space; improving the overall environment for the birds (litter, lighting and “enrichment”); and adopting controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) vs. electrical stunning of the animals.

“As a restaurant serving more than 10 million people a week, we have the platform and purchasing power to encourage positive changes in animal welfare practices,” said Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy with Panera.”

She added that meeting the goals will require cooperation on the farm side of the equation specifically as it relates to costs.  

“They have been essential partners over the years and we respect the investments they will need to make as we work together to find economically viable and sustainable models that lead to higher welfare birds,” Burnett said.

The company’s CEO, Ron Shaich, also provided an update on the company’s progress on reducing antibiotic use in its system.

“We started 13 years ago with chicken raised without antibiotics because we believed that a national restaurant company could use size and scale to affect change in the marketplace.

“Our journey to reduce antibiotics has taught us that truly transformational change requires moves by many stakeholders. It is our hope that leadership by companies like Panera will continue to be a catalyst for animal welfare across the industry.”

Part of that progress included the rollout of the company’s raised without antibiotics (RWA) deli turkey this past September in addition to the already-utilized chicken used on the chain’s sandwiches and salads, which translates to 86 percent of the company’s poultry supply is now antibiotic free and vegetarian fed.

As of 2016, 100 percent of bacon, sausage and ham served on the chain’s sandwiches and salads were from vegetarian-fed livestock raised without the use of gestation housing and without the administration of antibiotics. This constitutes 93 percent of its pork supply. Meanwhile, in 2016, 95 percent of the company’s beef was grass fed and raised in free-range environments, according to the statement.

The company continued to make progress on its adoption of using cage-free eggs throughout its system, as 28 percent of the 70 million shell eggs used on sandwiches and salads were cage free with 16 percent of its 120 million eggs used to make items on its menus were cage free. Plans include a commitment among the companies Canadian bakery-cafes to use cage-free by 2025.