KFC higher-ups must have been running around the company's corporate head offices like chickens with their heads cut off. At least, judging by their somewhat shrill reaction when word leaked last week that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had bagged the support of enviro heavyweights David Suzuki, Elizabeth May and writer Farley Mowat in its boycott efforts against the fast food giant.
More mainstream eco heavyweights like Sierra and the Suzuki Foundation are usually reluctant to attach themselves to the causes of groups like PETA, which is best known for ruffling the feathers of its critics with over-the-top PR stunts.
PETA, though, convinced the threesome to sign on to a formal complaint filed with the federal Competition Bureau accusing KFC Canada of "misleading the public about its animal welfare policies."
"The average person who is going out and buying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken does not know how KFC Canada treats its animals," says May.
The complaint, which is taking its cue from a successful lawsuit filed against KFC's U.S. counterpart in 2003, contends that KFC Canada, through media releases and statements on its website, "has attempted to gain an unfair advantage in the Canadian marketplace by deceiving consumers about its nonexistent animal welfare program."
Says PETA spokesperson Bruce Friedrich, "The implication from KFC that chickens are treated well, when chickens are the most abused animal on the face of the planet, is morally repugnant."
The Kentucky Fried giant was quick with some PR of its own, issuing a press release the day before PETA's announcement, extolling the qualities of its "safe and farm-fresh gold-standard chicken."
The fried chicken chain insists it "regularly and randomly audits all of our suppliers' chicken processing facilities" and has a "zero-tolerance policy to ensure the ethical treatment of animals." The company, however, does not mention that those standards are written by industry and are mostly voluntary.
KFC also took care to distance itself from chicken processors. "It's not something that we're copping out on, but we want to be clear that we don't raise chickens, we're in the business of preparing them," says Steve Langford, general manager of purchasing for KFC Canada.
Right now, KFC Canada uses 14 processors. According to Robin Horel, president of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, all his processors stun their birds so they're unconscious when their throats are slit. This is "the most humane way... poultry is slaughtered worldwide," Horel says.
Ann Salvatore, senior law officer at the Competition Bureau, says KFC could be forced to change its practices or send out public notices in its ads if it's found to be in violation of the Competition Act.