Consumer Pressure is Driving the Cage-Free Egg Trend

ChickenThis month two more companies announced they will make their egg supply chains cage-free by 2025. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. will phase out hen battery cages by 2025. Battery cages are as small as one sheet of paper and do not allow hens to flap their wings or engage in natural chicken behaviors such as perching or dusting.

Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden, will phase out battery cages from its egg supply chain by 2018. The company will also phase out sow gestation crates from its pork supply chain by 2025.

Both Walmart and Darden cite the Five Freedoms of animal welfare, formulated by the Farm Animal Welfare Council:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  • Freedom from Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The announcement by both companies is indicative of the trend among companies away from battery cages. Consumer pressure is driving the trend.

Josh Balk, senior food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States, told TriplePundit that it has “fortunately become very difficult for major food companies to appear on the side of animal abuse, in this case, the cruel confinement of hens in tiny cages.” He added that going cage-free has two benefits as it is “dramatically better for the animals” and “it’s also good business sense to align policies with customer sentiment regarding animal welfare.”

Consumer-driven campaigns really do have an impact on a company’s behavior. Good Food Now is a great example. Good Food Now is a campaign by environmental, worker justice, human health and animal welfare organizations that call for Darden to improve both its labor practices and commit to serving food that is better for people, the planet and animals. In November, the over 50 organizations involved in the campaign sent a letter to Darden asking the company to improve its practices regarding serving and sourcing food.

The campaign sent another letter to Darden in January, urging the company to adhere to the Good Food Purchasing Policy, which includes making animal welfare a priority. Other parts of the policy include making environmental sustainability, a valued workforce, local economies and good nutrition important. The letter asked Darden to remove sow gestational crates and caged hens from its supply chain — two requests the company now pledged to deliver on. 

We asked Hannah Hafter, senior program leader for activism at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), what is driving these corporate animal welfare commitments, including the move to cage-free eggs. “I believe it’s consumer driven,” she replied, adding that the Good Food Now campaign “is a consumer campaign.” The UUSC is one of the 50 organizations involved with the Good Food Now campaign.

The campaign is not boycotting Darden’s restaurants, but it’s using consumer pressure to get the company to commit to better practices. Darden is “in a position to set trends rather than follow trends,” Hafter said. And there’s often a domino-effect with big companies, she explained, where one makes a commitment and “a new norm is set.”

Darden’s commitment to phase out battery cages and sow gestation crates is the “big success” of the campaign, Hafter told us. “As we use our consumer power to push the bar higher, the bar starts to move for the entire industry,” she said. 

The Animal Welfare Institute is another organization that is part of the campaign. Michelle Pawlinger, farm animal policy associate for the Animal Welfare Institute, told TriplePundit: “It’s almost at the end of the ages for battery cages.” She thinks there will be an end to the use of battery cages among hens in the U.S. within 20 years.  That is a good thing as “chickens have their own natural behaviors, and giving them a life worth living is really important,” she added.

Image credit: Flickr/Sh4rp_i

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Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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