The nation's largest coffee retailer quietly announced this week that it will only buy animal products from suppliers who practice humane farming, in what advocacy groups say is the most sweeping animal welfare policy of any restaurant chain.
In a statement Starbucks said it is expanding its commitment to use industry best practices in meat, egg and dairy production.
"Starbucks goal is for everything we sell to be produced under high quality and ethical standards. For the food and dairy we serve, this means a commitment to social responsibility standards with animal welfare as a primary focus," the company said. "We are committed to working with and buying from farmers and suppliers who share our commitment to humane practices throughout an animal’s lifecycle."
While setting no timetable, the company - which has 15,000 stores nationwide - said it will no longer purchase eggs from suppliers who keep hens in battery cages or pigs housed in gestation crates.
Other mutli-national food service companies have made similar pledges, but Starbucks goes further by saying it will not do business with farmers who dock the tails or dehorn cattle and said it will not buy from farmers who use growth hormones in chickens, said animal welfare groups.
"This is perhaps the most extensive of any restaurant chain," said Josh Balk, director of food policy for the Humane Society of the United States, which has been working with Starbucks on the issue for several years.
"They're banning the caging of egg-laying hens, confinement of mother pigs in gestation crates and tail docking, dehorning and castration without pain relief. They are also addressing the inhumane fast growth of chickens raised for meat."
Balk said the genetic manipulation of broilers - chickens raised for meat - is the "greatest concern." Those chickens grow to full size at just 40 days and their legs can't carry their oversized bodies, inducing heart attacks in chicks, said Balk.
The policy change by Starbucks is part of a seismic shift in food production by major chains such as McDonalds, Costco and Burger King and suppliers like Unilever away from cruel industry farm practices and toward more humane farming in production agriculture.
It comes three months after Montgomery County based Hatfield Meats, one of the nation's largest pork producers, announced it was phasing out the use of gestation crates which confine sows in a space so tight they can barely move.