One of the nation’s best-known family dining brands, Denny’s, just announced plans to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs throughout all its U.S. locations, completing the process over the next decade. The South Carolina-based company uses roughly half a billion eggs a year, so once the policy is fully implemented, it will get millions of laying hens out of cages each year, and allow them more natural movements.
Denny’s is the latest major food retail brand to make a cage-free pledge, with the movement getting supercharged last September when McDonald’s decided to make the pledge. We’ve worked with nearly every other big fast food chain ( Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.), food manufacturer (Nestle, Unilever, General Mills, etc.) and food service company (Compass Group, Sodexo, Aramark, etc.) to announce cage-free policies, in what may best be described as a mad scramble away from battery cage confinement.
Wins for hens are coming in on a near-daily basis, but there was nothing inevitable about this shift in the food industry, and it didn’t come easily.
We first started to work with individual colleges and universities to switch to cage-free eggs. I remember our first “big” win was working with George Washington University’s small student grocery store to go cage-free, in 2005. We then started to make gains collaborating with some leaders within the industry to address cage confinement, like Whole Foods Market and Bon Appétit Management Company. After some progress continuing to garner a few more corporate commitments, we waged battle in California, passing Prop 2 and winning a cage-free standard with a record number of votes.
The California ballot measure was a turning point, prompting the egg industry to come to the table and agree to work with The HSUS on a federal legislative compromise to create minimum national standards that would’ve at least banned barren battery cages and required on-carton disclosure labeling long sought by animal advocates. Even as these major adversaries found common ground —a model of how Congress should work—key lawmakers on the House and Senate agriculture committees took their cues from the pork and beef lobbyists and elected to block the bill from coming up for a vote. It was the plainest evidence that some sectors of animal agriculture oppose any animal welfare reforms, even ones that wouldn’t directly affect their businesses or operations.
But social reform has a funny way of finding a pathway, especially with a determined advocate like The HSUS. Even as (and perhaps because) other agribusiness sectors and Congress chose to stymie a common sense political reform that would ultimately benefit the egg industry, private corporations stepped into the breach and took the lead. In fact, they’re creating a more rigorous standard than even the proposed legislation sought, with the new baseline for the egg industry now becoming cage-free.
We’re proud to partner with the largest food companies, like Denny’s, and usher in a more humane food system. We certainly have more to do, but these serial announcements make it plain that the long history of caging chickens as a conventional production method is coming to an end.