I guess if you're going to eat a Big Mac or a Filet-O-Fish sandwich or Chicken McNuggets, it's good to know that the animals involved in the transaction were treated well before they met their maker. And for a company like McDonald's -- which by some estimates sells more than 1 billion pounds of beef (from 5.5 million head of cattle) each year -- the example it sets has a tremendous effect on other businesses worldwide.

People around the world are increasingly interested in the welfare of farm animals used to make the food they eat, and they are voting with their wallets -- favoring businesses that put animal welfare at the top of their priority list. Recent studies reveal that almost 60 percent of U.S. consumers report that they are more concerned about animal welfare and the food supply than they were just a few years ago.

The latest Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) report was just released, and the results are surprising. This report ranks 110 global food companies on farm animal welfare standards, organizing them into 6 tiers, with tier 1 being best and tier 6 worst.

Surprisingly, McDonald's ranked at the very top of all fast-food companies globally -- earning a spot near the top of tier 2, and beating out a variety of competitors including KFC, Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, Domino's, Pizza Hut, which with the exception of Domino's in tier 3, all landed in tier 4 or below. In fact, no fast-food restaurant has ever made it to tier 1 status, though it appears that McDonald's is poised to get there first.

So, what put McDonald's at the top of the heap for animal welfare among fast-food restaurants? According to the report, much of the credit goes to the fact that McDonald's has made animal welfare integral to its overall business strategy. The company knows that consumers want to eat meat and other animal products that are healthy and humanely raised and slaughtered, and McDonald's is taking definitive action to meet its customers' desires.

According to the BBFAW, there is room for McDonald's to improve, however, particularly when it comes to addressing the welfare of the chickens that end up in a variety of the company's products. For its part, McDonald's reports that it is making strides in that area.

So, the next time you order a Big Mac, know that McDonald's has made animal welfare one of its top priorities. While it's not perfect, McDonald's is clearly headed in the right direction, and other fast-food companies are following in its very large footsteps.