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02/04/01 . Ellis Mnyandu . CNBC.com . US
Burger King to audit animal treatment
NEW YORK, April 2 (Reuters) - No. 2 U.S. fast food group Burger King Corp., facing mounting pressure from animal welfare activists, on Monday announced plans to audit slaughterhouses to ensure humane treatment of the animals used in its products.
The announcement came amid a rising tide of protests by the animal-rights group PETA, which has said the Miami-based company has done little to ensure animal welfare compared to its rival, McDonald's Corp. .
Burger King spokesman Rob Doughty said the audit plan, once drawn up, would seek to monitor its suppliers for compliance with industry guidelines on animal treatment.
"One thing we're interested in doing, we intend putting together an auditing program to make sure that the slaughterhouses are complying," Doughty told Reuters.
"We still have some work to do in terms of getting a little more specific, but we hope to have the audit plan as quickly as we can," Doughty said. He said the plan would initially be targeted at the U.S. market.
He declined to give further details.
Earlier on Monday, Burger King also announced its endorsement of the American Meat Institute Good Management Practices for Animal Handling and Stunning for cattle and swine, the United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks, and the National Chicken Council Animal Welfare Guidelines for Broiler Chickens.
"The next step, working in concert with our advisory council, will be to identify specific provisions within these guidelines which should be enhanced or qualified and to adopt procedures for implementation and verification," Tulin Tuzel, Burger King's senior vice president and chief technology officer said in a statement.
Doughty added that the guidelines would be used by Burger King's animal advisory council to draw up the proposed audit plan for slaughterhouses and hen houses.
But Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) dismissed the announcement of the plan as a "public relations" smoke screen, saying it lacked details of when and how it would benefit the animals.
"It will be very encouraging if they are really serious about doing these audits and punish the suppliers that are in breach of the animal welfare guidelines," Friedrich said.
"But so far there really is little I see coming out of this. Burger King has to be specific," he said, adding PETA's protest action would continue until Burger King met its demands.
McDonald's, the world's biggest restaurant group, last August said it would require egg suppliers to provide hens nearly twice as much space as the industry average and would buy more eggs from suppliers who ban beak trimming.
McDonald's, whose action came after PETA suspended its campaign against it last year, also makes surprise visits to slaughterhouses and hen houses.
"Burger King has to take animal welfare seriously or else we will do to them what we did to McDonald's bottom line. My hope is that after Burger King acts on this, the entire industry will follow," Friedrich said.
Burger King, a unit of British conglomerate Diageo Plc , serves massive quantities of meat and eggs in its 11,330 outlets worldwide and has been under pressure from PETA since October.
In the past month, Burger King says it has seen around 30 animal-rights protests, but no direct impact on sales.
In the latest incident, a dozen PETA protesters showed up outside a Burger King outlet in Washington last week and set up a video screen on the sidewalk showing horrific slaughterhouse scenes and started handing out leaflets to passersby.
Burger King said on Monday about a dozen protesters had also protested outside its Miami headquarters,
the day the company's new chief executive officer, John Dasburg, took up his position.