WASHINGTON – A $4 million research partnership between the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and McDonald’s Corp. has been forged with the goal of developing technology to deliver automated, quantitative animal welfare assessments of broiler chickens. The SMART Broiler program is soliciting applications to improve animal welfare using technology that will replace the current method of monitoring the welfare of broilers, which is reliant on observations and subjective assessments by humans. 

The goal of the initiative is to identify technology that monitors the welfare of chickens throughout the supply chain by delivering objective and comprehensive data about the birds’ condition based on indicators including their walking ability and behavior. According to FFAR, McDonald’s will test the Sensors, Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technologies (SMART) throughout its system of commercial broiler facilities. The technology could affect up to 9 billion chickens in the US and as many as 20 billion across the globe.  

“FFAR is committed to improving animal welfare,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “Developing monitoring tools is critical to understanding and improving animal welfare across the broiler industry. The SMART Broiler program will not only improve the accuracy of welfare assessments, but also enhance producer efficiency and profitability.”

The immediate goal of the initiative is to quickly develop the hardware components, data management and analytics necessary to assess broiler chicken welfare on the farm. As many as four awards of up to $500,000 each are planned for the first funding phase. Applications for this phase are being accepted until June 5, 2019. An informational webinar about the program will be held April 25, 2019.  

A second phase will provide additional funding up to $1 million to the first round’s awardees based on their success and to allow them to continue development of their technologies. According to FFAR: “The end goal of the program is to develop commercially feasible tools that can be deployed worldwide.”

Keith Kenny, McDonald’s vice president of global sustainability said the project demonstrates the company’s continued efforts to enhance the treatment of the animals in its supply chain. “This work builds on our decades-long commitment and progress on animal welfare,” he said. “We are excited to partner with FFAR to identify innovative, scalable technology solutions that will allow our supply chain to monitor animals’ behavior and welfare across diverse, global supply chains at commercial scale and ultimately help drive improved welfare outcomes.”