Compass Group, Parent Company of UChicago Food Service Provider Chartwells, Accused of Disregarding Animal Welfare

Compass Group, the parent company of UChicago’s food service provider Chartwells Higher Education, is responding to backlash for disregard for animal welfare by the Humane League and other organizations.

Compass Group, Parent Company of UChicago Food Service Provider Chartwells, Accused of Disregarding Animal Welfare

By Carolyn Russell

Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and images of slaughter and animal abuse.

Compass Group, the parent company of UChicago’s food service provider Chartwells Higher Education, is responding to allegations of animal cruelty in a number of their facilities. Since 2016, animal welfare organization The Humane League (THL) and student organizations at several universities have accused Compass Group of raising chickens and pigs in inhumane conditions.

Chartwells Higher Education, a food service provider for about 300 campuses across the nation, has been UChicago’s campus food service provider since July 2021.

Protests began when New York University student organization Animal Welfare Collective held up signs in front of the university’s Weinstein Residence Hall in September 2022. This came after THL made claims about the company’s inhumane treatment of animals, specifically chickens and pigs, in August.

The Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) is a list of expectations created by animal welfare scientists from various nonprofit organizations that supports the welfare of broiler chickens. Since November 2016, more than 200 food companies including Sonic, Red Robin, Starbucks, Chipotle, and Shake Shack have adopted these expectations. In 2016, Compass Group announced new policies in line with the BCC.

Compass Group has committed to improving the welfare of chickens raised for poultry by following the standards set by the BCC and has presented THL with a timeline, THL spokesperson Karen Hirsch told The Maroon in November 2022. According to Hirsch, Compass plans to source certain breeds of chickens called higher-welfare breeds, which grow less rapidly and are less prone to health issues. A study conducted by Global Animal Partnership highlighted the differences between conventional and higher-welfare breeds. “The results were clear: conventional breeds of chicken raised for meat, termed ‘rapid growth’ due to selective breeding that causes the animals to reach market weight unnaturally fast, suffer muscle myopathies, deformities, poor foot health, and have trouble standing or walking,” THL wrote.

Stock photos of poultry chickens about to be slaughtered using the live-shackle slaughter method (Karen Hirsch)

Additionally, Hirsch reports that Compass Group has agreed to move away from their live-shackle slaughter method. This method entails the chickens being tossed into shackles made of metal and sent into an electrical water bath, which is meant to render them unconscious before slaughter. According to Hirsch, Compass Group claims that they will present a detailed plan for these changes in 2023.

To enhance pig welfare, Compass Group also plans to move away from gestation crates by summer of 2023, according to Hirsch. Gestation crates are tight cages, only slightly larger than the sows (female pigs) themselves, that sows are forced to live in while they are repeatedly impregnated until they can no longer reproduce, usually around the age of one and a half to two years. Sows typically live for about 20 years.

According to Hirsch, Compass Group will replace gestation crates with a system where the pigs will not live in a crate for longer than seven days.

For the welfare of egg-laying hens, Hirsch told The Maroon that Compass Group plans to eliminate their use of battery cages used to house egg-laying hens, within the next year. These battery cages are stuffed with four to 10 hens, and the bottom of the cages often cause foot problems for many hens.

THL has acknowledged the importance of the changes Compass Group has made and its efforts to support animal welfare in the food industry. Vicky Bond, president of THL, said, “We commend Compass Group and Sodexo for leading the way in the global foodservice industry and releasing implementation plans to reduce the suffering of countless animals in their supply chains.” Sodexo is another food service provider that serves more than 100 million people every day in more than 50 countries.

University spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan said, “The University works closely with Chartwells to uphold a range of best practices in food production and sourcing. We remain in communication with Chartwells as they continue to enhance sustainability across their supply chain.”

Compass Group declined to comment on the implementation of their new practices.