Over the past few years, many companies committed to make their egg supply chains cage-free. Add the chain with the iconic golden arches to the list.
McDonald’s will transition to cage-free eggs in its North American restaurants within the next 10 years, the company announced last week.
The fast-food chain’s announcement is major. McDonald’s has 16,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. And the company will switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs for all of its U.S. and Canadian operations, which will keep almost 8 million egg-laying hens from being confined in cramped cages. As the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) put it, this is a “watershed moment for animal welfare.”
Consider that McDonald’s U.S. stores alone buy about 2 billion billion eggs a year and McDonald’s Canada buys another 120 million eggs to serve on its breakfast menus. Those Egg McMuffins that are so popular will one day never come from hens that are kept in confined quarters. Already, McDonald’s buys some of its eggs from cage-free sources. The company has bought over 13 million cage-free eggs a year since 2011.
McDonald’s is also no stranger to animal welfare standards. In 2000, McDonald’s USA became the first food service company to adopt a standard for hen housing systems so more space would be provided per bird. Ten years later, the company started research with the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply on hen housing systems.
The cruelty of battery cages
Most egg-laying hens are confined in what are called battery cages, according to the HSUS. The average cage size gives hens 67 square inches. That’s smaller than one sheet of letter-sized paper. And the poor creature is confined in that small space for the rest of her life. She can’t spread her wings, or practice natural behaviors like nesting, perching and dustbathing. Those are all things she needs to do in order to be healthy and content.
Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Konrad Lorenz explains just how devastating it is to watch a battery-caged hen lay her eggs. “The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act,” Lorenz said. “For the person who knows something about animals, it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cage-mates to search there in vain for cover.”
Even in cage-free systems there is still inherent cruelty. Here’s a list of things that occur under both caged and cage-free systems, compiled by the HSUS:
- Both systems typically buy their hens from hatcheries that kill the male chicks upon hatching. Over 200 million chicks are killed in the U.S. each year.
- Both systems burn off part of a chicken’s beak.
- Both systems typically slaughter hens when they are less than 2 years old, which is far less than their normal lifespan. They are transported long distances to slaughter plants without being given food or water.
- There are producers in both systems that still use starvation to force chickens to molt.
Although cage-free does not mean cruelty-free, it is a start to creating a more humane kind of egg producing system in North America. At least the hens are able to lay their eggs in nests and take part in other natural chicken behaviors.
Image credit: Flickr/Steve Lilley