Fast-food chain Wendy's Co. is trying to be more humane to the chickens and pigs it uses in its food.
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, 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 a major improvement to industry standards. It urged other chicken producers to embrace the practice.
The company declined to disclose what percentage of its chicken comes from O.K. Foods but said it was a "sizable amount".
Wendy's also said that it was 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. Pork producers say larger stalls increase labor and food costs.
However, several major pork producers have recently agreed to phase out gestation crates and tight pens and switch to larger, more open pens as sentiment about the practice changes. Major pork buyer McDonald's Corp. announced in February that it would phase out gestation stalls in a move that was predicted to be a major shift for the industry.
Animal welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that it supported Wendy's moves. PETA has worked with the fast-food chain for several years, urging improvements in its practices.
"These are certainly good steps," said David Byer, senior corporate liaison for PETA.
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 world.
The company is trying to burnish 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 7 cents to close at $4.93.