McDonald’s fast food restaurant’s board of directors is recommending shareholders vote down a proposal to require five percent of the company’s eggs come from free-range hens. The change was proposed by the Humane Society of the United States.
The McDonald’s board said “the science isn’t there” to support the benefits of cage-free living for chickens, reports the New York Times. This despite the fact that McDonald’s is moving towards 100 percent cage-free eggs in Europe.
Instead, the board recommended (PDF) in a proxy statement suppliers continue to use “battery cages” for their hens, the most common housing for chickens in the US, but which the Humane Society and other groups say do not allow chickens to fully stretch their wings. Such cages, which provide about 72 square inches of space per hen, will be banned in the European Union starting in 2012.
A McDonald’s representative, Ronald Lisa McComb, told the Times there isn’t the demand for cage free here, or the farm infrastructure to provide such eggs on a large scale. However, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Trader Joe’s and Walmart have all already made commitments to use cage-free eggs at some level, according to the Times.
McDonald’s supports a study organized by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply which is looking at best practices for hen living arrangements in terms of environmental sustainability, animal well-being and “food affordability.”
The study is currently in the “study design” phase. Researchers at Michigan State University and UC Davis are currently developing standards to be used in the study for three types of living arrangement for chickens: cage-free aviary, enriched housing including nests and perches, and caged housing as is currently most common in the US.
The Humane Society has a nice visual and descriptive comparison of caged versus cage-free hens on its website. While not perfect, cage-free operations, if run correctly, can provide much better lives for their feathered workers.
For instance, hens instinctively seek out cover to lay their eggs, something impossible to find when you spend your entire life in a cage with a floor space no bigger than a piece of letter-sized paper.