To better meet the expectations of a new generation of consumers, as well as keep pace with competitors like Chipotle, restaurant chain Panera Bread today detailed progress on improvements to it animal welfare policies. 

"For years, Panera has been working closely with farmers, ranchers and experts, to learn how we can tangibly improve conditions for the farm animals in our supply chain. We've intentionally reduced or eliminated the use of antibiotics and confinement because we believe those are among the most critical animal welfare issues we can impact," Blaine Hurst, executive vice president and chief transformation and growth officer, said in a statement.  

The company, which earlier this summer announced a phase-out of all artificial additives in its food by 2016, is backing up its new "clean ingredients" policy with the following improvements to animal welfare:

  1. Starting in January 2015, all pigs will be fed vegetarian diets and sourced from farms where they are not only allowed to roam freely in group housing, but also never given any antibiotics.
  2. In 2014, all beef was sourced from 80 percent grass-fed cattle able to roam free and graze in pasture.
  3. In 2014, 18 percent of the more than 70 million eggs served came from chickens in cage-free environments. Further, 100 percent of the chickens served were given vegetarian-only diets and no antibiotics. 

It's important to note that while Panera has been a leader in many of these categories for some time now (it recently marked 10 years of selling chicken raised without antibiotics), there's still room for improvement — in particular with the sourcing of its egg-laying chickens. Nevertheless, as as Leah Garces, USA director of Compassion in World Farming says, even small amounts of progress in animal welfare can have a big impact. 

"Food companies have the power to make a big difference to the lives of farm animals, and that begins with examining their supply chain and identifying opportunities where welfare standards can be improved," she said. "We commend Panera Bread for their transparency and look forward to seeing their progress over time."

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Panera outlines improvements to its animal welfare practices
Restaurant chain expands humane sourcing of its meat and dairy products in response to greater consumer expectations.