Following years of dialogue with The HSUS and extensive research, McDonald’s has announced a firm timeline for eliminating the cage confinement of egg-laying chickens from its U.S. and Canadian supply chains, by switching to 100 percent cage-free eggs. The company announced this policy just moments ago, and we’re lauding the move.
Like its decision nearly four years ago to phase out pork from operations that confine breeding sows in gestation crates, this hen-welfare announcement makes plain that the future of egg production is cage-free. In practical terms, it now looks like simply swapping battery cages for larger, colony-style cages would be a very dangerous investment for anyone in the egg industry.
Following McDonald’s gestation crate announcement three years ago, more than 60 major food companies announced similar policies. We expect the cascade of laying-hen-welfare announcements – already in motion with pledges from Compass Group, Sodexo, Aramark, Burger King, Starbucks, Unilever, and others – to similarly accelerate, thereby hastening an end to the era of extreme confinement of farm animals.
Battery cages are perhaps the cruelest factory-farming invention. HSUS undercover investigations have documented the suffering caused by the extreme overcrowding in these wire contraptions, where birds are confined to cages so small and tight, they can’t even flap their wings – let alone perch or nest. It’s a near-complete deprivation of all that comes naturally to these animals.
Currently, McDonald’s U.S. and Canada supply chains annually use over two billion eggs from caged chickens—meaning this shift, once implemented, will directly improve life for nearly eight million animals per year. That’s eight million fewer individual animals enduring the misery of suffering virtual immobilization in cramped cages on factory farms. These eight million animals will be able to walk inside a barn, spread their wings, perch, lay their eggs in nests, and engage in other important natural behaviors denied to caged hens.
These are big numbers—almost unimaginably so – but it’s real animals we’re talking about, and this decision can alleviate a good share of their misery. While McDonald’s is taking 10 years to complete the shift, we’re optimistic that the switch can occur even quicker, and that other companies will do the same.
McDonald’s has already implemented a similar policy in other parts of the world, including Europe, thanks in large part to the good work of our friends at Compassion in World Farming, which of course also is supportive of the cage-free-egg policy in the United States. The HSUS is proud to have spearheaded a movement that, over the last decade, has resulted in sweeping change in how our nation farms and eats. We’re getting calves out of veal crates and pigs out of gestation crates. We’re getting hens out of cages. We’re making these practices illegal or at least unacceptable. The public gets it, and increasingly so does the food industry. We’re driving the market away from caged products and toward more humane and sustainable practices.
For years, many in our movement considered it an almost fanciful and far-fetched idea that we could actually end cage confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens. But that day is coming, and faster than almost anyone expected. There’s no turning away from it. Animals built to move should be allowed to move. It’s time for all of these industries to accept the inevitability of that outcome.
These changes are now inexorable and consumer attitudes irreversible, driven by a combination of ballot measures, courtroom victories, corporate policies, public awareness campaigns, and innovations in agriculture.
Side by side with so many major food companies, we’re working to assure a better future for farm animals. Today’s announcement from McDonald’s is surely one of the biggest moments in our long march forward.