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US: Animal Experts Quit KFC Over Confidentiality Pact

by Nichola GroomReuters
May 5th, 2005

Two animal welfare experts said they resigned as advisors to fast-food chain KFC after the company asked them to sign an agreement preventing them from speaking publicly about its policies on such issues as animal slaughter.

Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University and Dr. Ian Duncan of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said they stepped down from KFC parent Yum Brands Inc.'s animal welfare committee this week after being sent the agreement, which Grandin said would have required them to refer all media inquiries to KFC's corporate headquarters.

"I resigned because there is a document that I can't sign," Grandin said in an interview on Thursday. "I feel very strongly that I can talk freely to the press about how the program's working, what's been going on with the program."

Grandin, who has also worked with chains such as McDonald's Corp., Wendy's International Inc., and Burger King Corp., said she is used to preserving confidentiality with respect to suppliers and pricing information. But, she said, no other company, including KFC, has ever asked her to sign an agreement asking her to refrain from speaking to the press.

"Certain things are confidential ... I will not give out pricing information or information about who is supplying chicken where," Grandin said. "That type of confidentiality agreement I sign all the time."

KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer said the contract was no different from previous confidentiality agreements members of the animal welfare committee, including Grandin and Duncan, have signed.

"It's just the same confidentiality agreement they've always had. We're just asking everybody to re-sign it," Warschauer said.

She did not specify why the company was asking committee members to sign the agreement again, and added that she did not know whether other members of the committee had signed it.

"I don't see why they wouldn't," Warschauer said.

Warschauer said that Grandin, Duncan and another animal welfare expert gave KFC a list of recommendations on animal welfare in March. Warschauer said the company has a "plan of action" for each one of the steps on the list.

Duncan, who along with Grandin has served on the committee for about three years, said he, too, would have felt curtailed by the agreement.

"The way that I read it, it wouldn't allow me to talk in general terms about animal welfare," Duncan said in an interview on Wednesday. "If someone phoned me up and said 'You are on the KFC animal welfare committee,' I was bound to say 'No comment."'

KFC has been criticized by animal rights activists, who claim the chain has not done enough to make sure the chickens it uses are cared for and slaughtered humanely.

Last year, the issue reached a boiling point when a video made public by animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) showed workers at a West Virginia chicken processing plant that supplies KFC ripping off birds' beaks, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, and stomping and kicking them.

Duncan said KFC still "has some way to go" in improving its animal welfare standards.

"I've not been happy with the progress that's been made in setting standards," he said.

Grandin agreed that KFC "needs to be strengthening some things," but said the company had made progress.

"Change happens slowly and they have been making some improvements," she said.

A call to KFC for a response to these comments was not immediately returned.

KFC is working on a new agreement with both Grandin and Duncan under which they would serve as "technical advisors" to the company, Warschauer said. She said the company would be adding members to its animal welfare advisory board.

Grandin said the company had contacted her in an effort to work out an agreement and said she would be willing to continue working with KFC so long as the confidentiality agreement was scrapped.

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