The fast-food giant also asked the government to review a possible change in how processors slaughter its birds. KFC wants to know if gassing the birds with blasts of carbon dioxide would be safe for consumers and slaughterhouse workers. Its suppliers now stun the birds, then slit their throats.
KFC and its parent, Yum! Brands Inc., said the changes were not spurred by protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"We believe this is the right thing to do," said Jonathan Blum, Yum's senior vice president of public affairs.
PETA has targeted KFC for the treatment of its birds and slaughter practices. PETA claims that KFC's birds spend their short existence crammed into in poorly ventilated and barren sheds. The group has demanded that KFC suppliers add more living space and areas for perching.
PETA claims that at slaughter, some chickens aren't knocked out by the electric stun bath and are conscious when their throats are slit and even when dumped into tanks of scalding water to remove feathers.
The new poultry standards adopted by KFC apply to the birds' housing, nutrition and how they are caught and transported to the slaughterhouse.
KFC does not own or operate any poultry farms or processing plants. It purchases chickens from 18 suppliers around the country.
Under the new standards, birds must be able to move about freely and have access to food and water in shelters that are clean and well-ventilated. Suppliers must properly train its employees on how to handle the animals to avoid injuries to the birds.
The new standards were developed at the request of the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the Food Marketing Institute.
Terrie Dort, president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, said KFC is the first restaurant company to publicly endorse the standards. KFC has more than 11,000 restaurants worldwide and serves about 8 million customers daily.
In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Yum shares fell 23 cents to close Thursday at $24.47.