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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Taco Bell Commits to Sourcing Cage-Free Eggs By Next Year


A slew of companies in the last few years adopted animal welfare policies. Many companies have pledged to make their entire egg supply chain cage-free. Add Taco Bell to that list.

Taco Bell announced this week that 100 percent of its 6,000 U.S. restaurants will serve only cage-free eggs by December 2016. That would make the company the first fast food chain to makes its eggs completely cage-free, and it will transition to cage-free in just a 12 month time frame. Its eggs will be verified as “American Humane Certified” by the American Humane Association.

Contrast Taco Bell’s commitment to McDonald’s which pledged in September to make its egg supply chain cage-free within the next 10 years. If Taco Bell meets its target date, it will prove that it is possible for a major fast food chain to swiftly convert to cage-free eggs in short order. And that's amazing considering that a few weeks ago, the Washington Post called Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, the “only major fast food company that refuses to fix how it gets its food.” Clearly, the company understands the importance of responding to public pressure.

The importance of cage-free systems to America's hens

What’s the big deal about cage-free eggs? While eggs from hens that are cage-free and ones from hens that are held in battery cages taste the same and have the same nutritional content, there is a big difference to the hens. A caged hen is held in a space only 67 square inches and that is smaller one piece of letter-sized paper. The poor hen can’t spread her wings or indulge in other natural chicken behavior. Hens kept in battery cages tend to have feather loss and bruises because they rub against the wire bars of the cage, according to World Animal Protection. Not getting exercise can make the hen’s bones brittle and that makes her vulnerable to injury and illness. Some hens are unable to stand up as a result of their confinement.

By contrast, cage-free systems allow hens to spread their wings, walk and lay eggs in nests. Most cage-free hens are on farms that are third-party audited by certification programs, the Humane Society states on its website.

The business case for animal welfare

The Business Benchmark for Animal Welfare (BBFAW) has ranked companies for three years. The latest review assesses 80 companies and ranked them from Tier 1 (companies taking a leadership position) to Tier 6 (companies where animal welfare doesn’t seem to be on their agenda). Things are progressing, the latest review found, as 45 percent of the 65 companies first assessed in 2012 have moved up by at least one tier.

The Benchmark also found that half of the 80 companies assessed in the latest review are in the bottom two tiers. So, clearly animal welfare just doesn’t receive the same attention within companies that other corporate social responsibility issues do. Perhaps what many companies don’t understand is that there is a business case for animal welfare.

A 2011 report on the business case for animal welfare by Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare found that as a business issue, farm animal welfare “is relatively immature.” The report cites the “absence of universal standards and frameworks for managing the issue” as a big reason why. However, there is both a growing consumer and regulatory interest in animal welfare and that “presents real risks for food companies.”

Consumers have a “different relationship” with consumers, the report points out. More and more consumers want companies to have an animal welfare policy. For example, consumers want to buy cage-free eggs and they want food service companies they patronize to source their eggs from cage-free hens. Therefore, it is in a company’s best interest to meet the demands of their consumers. That's something Taco Bell realizes.

Photo: Oregon Department of Agriculture

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-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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