Asia’s fastest growing restaurant chain faces pressure over animal cruelty

Jollibee, the Filipino fast food chain famed for its sweet spaghetti sauce and Chickenjoy fried chicken, is facing criticism over how the hens it sources eggs from are treated. The firm announced a sustainable sourcing policy last year.

Factory hens on the production line/Jollibee logo
Jollibee Foods Corporation sources more than 586 million eggs a year, all from factory hens housed in cruel conditions, according to NGO the Open Wing Alliance. The Filipino company announced a responsible sourcing policy for key ingredients in December 2022. Image: Jollibee/The Humane League

Filipino fast food chain Jollibee Foods Corporation is facing criticism for sourcing eggs from factory farms in Asia that have poor animal welfare standards and are at risk of disease outbreaks.

The company famous for Chickenjoy fried chicken and sweet spaghetti sauce sources all of its eggs from hens housed in cramped cages, despite recently announcing a responsible sourcing policy, a campaign by United States-based animal welfare coalition Open Wing Alliance (OWA) claims.

Jollibee Foods Corp is Asia’s fastest growing restaurant company and owns sub-brands Jollibee, Smashburger, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Red Ribbon, Greenwich, Chowking and Mang Inasal. The Manila-headquarted firm uses more than 586 million eggs annually from millions of hens confined to industrial cages, according to OWA data.

In December, Jollibee announced it would roll out a responsible sourcing programme for key ingredients, including poultry, beef, packaging, palm oil, coffee, dairy and vegetables. In its 2022 sustainability report, the firm said it would create a baseline and set targets for responsible sourcing, although those targets have yet to be published.

“Jollibee claims it acknowledges its duty and potential to positively impact sustainability concerns in the fast food industry. However, the conditions under which it sources eggs are appalling and inhumane,” said Caitlin Campbell, Open Wing Alliance’s global campaigns coordinator, in a statement. 

Hens confined to small, barren cages are typically unable to engage in natural behaviours like spreading their wings or nesting. OWA said this “cruel” treatment is “unacceptable” and raises the risk of disease spread.

“Pushing Jollibee for cage-free egg progress globally – especially in Asia – is a critical step towards creating a sustainable and ethical food system, ensuring consumers have access to eggs that are produced humanely and responsibly,” said Campbell.

Jollibee has not responded to Eco-Business’s request for comment. 

Approximately 70 per cent of the world’s laying egg hens are based in Asia, but only 10.8 per cent of these flocks are cage-free, according to OWA data. More than 2,400 companies have made cage-free commitments globally, although most of these companies are based in the United States or Europe.

Dawn Neo, Singapore-based senior manager, corporate engagement at Global Food Partners, a consulting firm that advises food companies on animal welfare, noted that there are more than 260 companies with commitments to source 100-per-cent cage-free eggs in Asia.

Some are multinational food and hospitality businesses, including British restaurant chain Pizza Express and Yum! Brands, the US-based owner of KFC and Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, but a growing number of Asian companies are joining the movement, Neo told Eco-Business.

Over the past five years, Asian brands that have announced cage-free policies include Malaysia’s Old Town White Coffee, Thailand’s Minor International and Lotus, Super Indo and Potato Head Family of Indonesia, China’s Zoo Group and Singapore-based SaladStop.

Cage-free options are now available in supermarkets and e-tailers in Asia, including NTUC Fairprice and Redmart in Singapore, Lotus’s in Thailand and Malaysia, Carrefour Taiwan, AEON Japan and Super Indo in Indonesia. Some have launched their own house-brand cage-free eggs. 

“As Asia’s middle class grows and consumers become better educated, they are also becoming more curious about where their food comes from and how it’s produced,” Neo told Eco-Business. “Some clients that we work with told us that their customers in developing countries like Indonesia and Philippines are asking if the eggs and chicken in the dishes are reared cage-free or free-range.”

She pointed to statistics that show how the sale of cage-free eggs in Japan has increased by more than a third in a single year, while in Singapore, the number of cage-free and free-range egg brands has grown from one to more than 10 in just a few years. 

Animal welfare is increasingly seen as a material environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk for food companies – a risk that has grown in prominence in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and heightened awareness of the dangers of zoonotic disease transmission.

Caged egg farms are 25 times more likely to be contaminated with salmonella strains than eggs from uncaged hens, according to a study by the European Food Safety Authority, cited by OWA.

More than 20 billion chickens are killed for human consumption every year globally. Poultry are particularly vulnerable to Avian influenza, the worst ever outbreak of which is currently devastating populations of domestic and wild birds globally, and is spilling over into mammals including seals, otters, wild dogs and foxes.

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