SONIC® Drive-In’s Animal Welfare Goals and Mission
SONIC®, America’s Drive-In®, believes that handling animals in a humane manner, and preventing neglect or abuse, is our corporate responsibility and quite simply, the right thing to do.
Although SONIC is a restaurant company, and as such, does not raise, handle, own, transport or process animals, SONIC strongly supports and believes that it is our obligation to ensure that each of our suppliers meets or exceeds established government regulations and recognized industry guidelines for the humane treatment and handling of farm production animals.
SONIC’s Policies and Practices
The humane treatment of livestock results in a better quality product for our guests. We fully expect and require all of our suppliers to utilize the highest industry standards when dealing with livestock. We encourage programs and actions that facilitate continuous improvement over the long-term. SONIC believes that programs developed on an understanding of the issues, using science-based policies and standards, are typically more successful and sustainable in the long-term.
SONIC asks all suppliers to focus on two key areas so that they will have a successful animal welfare program: training and auditing. The key elements to humane treatment of animals lie in effective education, employee awareness and ongoing verification of practices.
Proper training for employees is critical in maintaining an effective animal welfare program. SONIC suppliers that are directly responsible for the raising, handling or slaughter of farm production animals should be trained to understand humane animal-handling practices that are based on credible science and industry standards. As well, frequent re-training is necessary to keep employees up-to-date with scientific understanding and current industry standards.
Auditing, as a means to verify practices, should be validated by self or internal audits and independent third-party audits. Self-auditing of core criteria should be conducted on a regular schedule. Different species have different criteria which are typically identified by their respective trade organizations and endorsed by subject matter experts, for example the American Meat Institute for beef or the National Chicken Council for chickens. It is vital to document the findings of the internal audits. SONIC began requiring all suppliers in 2010 to undergo third-party animal welfare audits which will be conducted by properly trained auditors from a recognized auditing firm. The third-party audits will be conducted at least annually. Audit results are reviewed by SONIC on an annual basis although all audits are available for review by SONIC at any time.
Animal Handling and Welfare Audit and Verification
The foundation of SONIC’s animal welfare program is based on a comprehensive third-party audit system for beef, poultry, and pork processing plants. These systems are based on credible scientific animal behavior research and consist of specific technical standards for animal treatment including a detailed set of guidelines for measuring compliance.
In general, independent third-party audit company criteria for the beef and pork animal welfare audits are based on critical control point criteria and audit forms for humane slaughter and handling that Temple Grandin, Ph.D., of Colorado State University’s animal science department, developed for the American Meat Institute. Dr. Grandin developed tools to verify housing, handling, transporting and termination guidelines for animal welfare and these programs have become the industry standard.
The poultry welfare audit used by the majority of independent third-party audit firms was developed in conjunction with James Marion, Ph.D. of Auburn University and the National Chicken Council.
Certified third-party auditors undergo extensive training in slaughter operations and standardized audit criteria, encompassing guidelines from leading retailers and associations.
In the event of non-compliance of SONIC’s animal welfare audit program which is based on industry/species-specific slaughter criteria, SONIC believes that suppliers should have an opportunity to improve. SONIC will continue to work with such suppliers if their performance does come into compliance with our animal welfare standards within a reasonable timeframe. Companies that continue to fail to meet SONIC’s animal welfare guidelines will be excluded from its supply chain.
Several major animal welfare issues are currently being addressed by the industry and SONIC.
- Broiler Chickens – The restaurant and food service industry is currently addressing concerns regarding breeding, housing, and slaughter methods of poultry raised for meat consumption, and SONIC is addressing these issues as well. In partnership with our suppliers and others in the industry, we are committed to improving conditions for broiler chickens and have established a goal of only sourcing chicken for SONIC menu items raised in ways that meet standards set by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) by 2024. The GAP standards include:
- Use of broiler chicken breeds proven to have better welfare outcomes,
- Reduction in maximum stocking density, and
- Improvement in living conditions including lighting, litter and enrichment.
- Breeds approved under the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) will also be allowable. And, auditing via a third party will ensure compliance with the above standards. Additionally, we plan to only source broiler chickens that have been processed using a multi-step controlled-atmosphere stunning system in the same timeframe.
We believe these changes will offer improved animal welfare outcomes; however, the path to achieving those objectives is still in development and some of the required technology is not commercially available on a broad basis at this time. We are committed to working with our suppliers and other stakeholders to increase supplier availability and consumer affordability.
- Sow Housing – Many large scale pork producers are moving away from confining sows in gestation crates by transitioning to systems in which sows are housed in group pens. SONIC began addressing this issue in 2010, when the company began incorporating gestation crate-free pork into its supply chain. SONIC is actively working to eliminate gestation crates from its pork supply chain, and intends to reach that goal no later than 2022, the timeframe several large pork producers have set to be fully transitioned to group sow housing. SONIC will continue to favor suppliers that raise hogs in a gestation crate-free environment in addition to suppliers that can provide audit and tracking reports for sourcing crate-free pork. As of March 2017, 52 percent of sows raised for SONIC lived in group housing.
- Laying Hens – SONIC’s animal welfare requirement for egg suppliers is to meet United Egg Producer (UEP) standards for housing and other poultry practices. SONIC does not support the withdrawal of food or water to facilitate molting or support improperly controlled and/or managed beak trimming. In January 2016, SONIC made the commitment to source 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2025.
- Antibiotic Use – Effective January 2017, poultry suppliers should only administer antimicrobial drugs to animals for the prevention, control and treatment of disease. Animals will be treated when necessary for animal welfare. Use of antibiotics that are medically important to humans, for the sole purpose of growth promotion is strictly prohibited.
Per FDA Guidance 209 and 213, suppliers should not use medically important antimicrobials in food animals for production purposes; suppliers are also required to bring the therapeutic uses of such antimicrobials under the oversight of licensed veterinarians.
SONIC continues to work together with government and industry leaders to seek opportunities for continuous improvement and the enhancement of science- based humane animal handling standards. In addition, SONIC supports the adoption of improvements in areas that result in more humane conditions for animals used for the production of food.
We continue to focus our efforts toward humane farm animal production practices, humane animal transport practices and humane slaughter practices.
SONIC has the opportunity and responsibility to ensure proper handling and treatment of the farm production animals we purchase. We take that responsibility very seriously which is why we monitor our suppliers on an ongoing basis. SONIC will only conduct business with supply partners who promise to maintain high quality and food-safety standards, and suppliers that also share our commitment to animal welfare.