"The ethical treatment of chickens is important to us, which is why we took proactive steps to work with PETA to enhance our animal welfare standards and policies," KFC Canada President Steve Langford said in a statement.
Under an agreement with PETA signed May 5, KFC Canada will phase in over eight years the use of "controlled-atmosphere killing" for all chickens bought for its restaurants. PETA calls that the "least-cruel form of poultry slaughter ever developed."
The "CAK" method involves removing oxygen from crates that carry chickens and replacing it with inert gases such as argon or nitrogen, PETA spokesman Matt Prescott said Tuesday. The birds do not suffocate but die painlessly as they breathe the gases, he said.
"Right now, birds are dumped from their crates while conscious, snapped into shackles while conscious, have their throats cut while they're conscious and are dropped into a tank of scalding hot water," Prescott said. "With CAK, all of the abuses that chickens currently suffer are eliminated."
Langford said it will be up to chicken suppliers to manage any costs of switching to CAK. Langford said the change won't mean higher pricers for restaurant customers because KFC sets its prices based on competition.
PETA is calling on KFC's parent company in the United States, Yum Brands in Louisville, Ky., to make the same changes as KFC Canada. The organization already has held more than 12,000 protests at KFC restaurants worldwide.
Yum Brands said in a statement that it has strict animal welfare standards for its suppliers.
"We look forward to learning whether our Canadian franchisee's action has any positive benefit on the humane treatment of poultry," the statement said.
KFC Canada also agreed to add a vegan faux-chicken option to its menu, improve its animal-welfare audit criteria to reduce the number of broken bones and other injuries suffered by the birds, form an animal-welfare advisory panel and urge its suppliers to adopt practices such as phasing-out use of drugs that promote growth.