Breaking News: Walmart, the Nation’s Biggest Food Seller, Says No to Cage Confinement for Hens

By on April 5, 2016 with 86 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

After working with The HSUS, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and America’s biggest food seller accounting for 25 percent of all groceries sold in the United States, announced today that it intends to source all of its eggs from cage-free sources. The policy will be fully implemented by 2025, and it will apply to the company’s stores in Canada as well.

Since September, when McDonald’s announced its cage-free policy, we knew that we had turned the corner in the fight against battery cages.  But today, that debate ends, and the trajectory of this debate is clear. The era of confining hens in cages in America’s food system is officially sunsetting.

Over the last decade, my colleague Josh Balk and I took many trips to Bentonville, Ark. to make our case to key Walmart personnel, and the team at Walmart was open and welcoming throughout the process. But given that the company likely buys more eggs than any other food retailer, and that very little egg production in the United States has been of the cage-free kind, it was not a decision it could make precipitously.

For so long, this moment seemed so distant, even as we knew we’d get there.

In the mid-2000s, we worked with colleges and universities to pioneer cage-free purchasing policies, and partnered with corporate trailblazers to follow suit, like Whole Foods and Bon Appétit Management Company.

Almost a decade ago to the day, USA Today reported on this trickle of progress. In its article titled, “Cage-Free Hens Pushed to Rule Roost,” the nation’s largest newspaper wrote: “A wave of colleges and universities, along with big-name employers such as America Online, food-service purveyors, restaurants and even high schools, have either eliminated or reduced their use of eggs from caged hens.”

That was the start.  We then conducted a series of undercover investigations to show the American public what conventional egg production looks like. They didn’t much like what they saw.

Then, in 2008, we reached a game-changing moment with the passage of Prop 2 in California, with that initiative attracting more “yes” votes than any other ballot initiative in U.S. history. After that landslide election banning cage confinement in the country’s fifth-largest egg producing state, we persuaded many major food companies to switch some percentage of their eggs to cage-free.

In the following years, we passed a law in Michigan phasing out chicken cages. And we worked with Ohio’s agribusiness leaders and the governor to pass a regulation banning construction of new cages. Weighing in on this growing movement, the New York Times editorialized, in 2010, that “Industrial confinement is cruel and senseless and will turn out to be, we hope, a relatively short-lived anomaly in modern farming.”

Indeed, that would turn out to be the case.

We continued working in collaboration with virtually every major egg buyer. In 2012, Burger King became the first major fast food brand to adopt a timeline for going 100 percent cage-free. In September 2015, McDonald’s did the same, breaking the dam on the issue.

In the months following McDonald’s announcement, we helped nearly a hundred major companies follow suit—including the country’s largest egg purchasers like Denny’s, IHOP, Kroger, Albertson’s, and so many more. Our efforts  were so successful that Fox News called 2015, “The Year of the Cage-Free Hen” and NPR reported that, as a result, “Most U.S. Egg Producers are now Choosing Cage-Free Houses.”

There’s been unyielding progress throughout 2016—leading us to today’s announcement with Walmart, which provides the closing argument on the era of battery-cage confinement.

Yes, there are still some outliers, and we’ll work with them to join their competitors in going cage-free. It’s also important that we pass our ballot measure in Massachusetts this year to ensure a cage-free retail standard in the state. But the debate on whether cages have a future in the egg industry has been concluded, and now it is a matter of egg producers converting all of their operations over the next few years to cage-free. Consumers want this change and it will ultimately produce a much better set of outcomes for producers, food retailers, and customers alike, but most of all for the hens.

Because of the tremendous work of the HSUS team, along with our friends, including Compassion in World Farming, we can mark it down in our calendars, as a matter of historical record: April 5 was a big day indeed.

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  1. nella crosiglia says:

    what a beautiful ” gift”!!!!

    • Renee says:

      I decided long time ago to go vegeterian! The only way to make a difference and end the suffering of millions of living , breathing, animals who suffer and feel pain.!!!

    • megahn says:

      I do not understand why it takes 9 years to change the policy. That seems way to long. I can understand 1 year but 9? And, how can we trust that this is really going to happen? I want to trust all these companies that say they are “cage free”, but I am always skeptical. That is why I stopped eating eggs and became a vegan.

    • Jacqueline Schmidt says:

      Everyone: Unless you are only purchasing HFAC Humane Certified “Pasture Raised” eggs, you are still contributing to the problem of barbaric living when it comes to laying hens. There is very little difference between how caged and free-range hens exist in big factory farming. Even if a company eliminates battery cages, we still need to continue to push for better conditions for the hens. Please take time to do your research on the internet, especially concerning HFAC Humane Certified “Pasture Raised” eggs and “pop holes”. It will truly open your eyes.

      Furthermore, every year millions upon millions of unwanted male chicks are killed at birth (ground up alive or suffocated in plastic bags) because they cannot produce eggs.

      12 Egg Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know:

      If you can handle it, this shows what happens to male chicks as they are being ground up alive:

      Also, there is the matter of what happens to hens once they no longer lay eggs. So, you see, there really aren’t any humane eggs unless you raise them yourself or find a farmer that you can trust. The good news is there are healthy, delicious alternatives. Some can be found here, and if you google the alternatives, you will find many, many more:

      Thank you for caring!

      • Leigh says:

        Did I miss the part about free range chickens in the article? I know there is not much difference between caged and cage free. Is that what you meant? Luckily, we get our eggs from a few different friends who have chickens.

      • Liz says:

        Watch a “Polyface Farms” video to see how true, Eco/Humane farming should be done. You don’t have to give up meat, poultry, eggs or dairy to help make change, simply refuse to buy anything that does not have the certified humane stamp. Before you purchase, research the supposed cage free poultry and grass feed beef producers label and make sure they don’t have any illegal infractions regarding their standards. Giving money to real farms rather than slaughter camps and letting grocery store managers know you will not shop there market until they bring in “Certified Humane” products. That is the best way to make your voice heard.

    • Tegan Roller says:

      We need the meat!! Farmers will not abuse the animals and treat the poorly because that is less profit. Not only that its the fact that those farmers care about what the do on a regular basis. They care about the animals and take the best care

      • Dan says:

        They do whatever they can to maximise profit, that includes short cuts when it comes to animal welfare. If they can reduce costs and increase production they will do so even if it means cutting the beaks off, injecting them with hormones, grinding live chicks and packing them so close together you need anti-biotics to keep them alive. BTW you don’t need meat, you want it. Plenty of world class athletes who are vegetarians like Lizzie Armitstead.

  2. J. V. Tyler says:

    The big question is “Do you believe Wal-Mart and other large purchases?” Call me skeptical. Do you plan to monitor who they are buying from?

    • David Bernazani says:

      J.V. It’s easy enough to keep track of which egg producers are cage-free and which aren’t. There aren’t all that many, because most of them are so huge. And I’m sure the HSUS can easily track which producers have purchased the equipment to convert to cageless farms.

      • J. V. Tyler says:

        David Bernazani — Thanks for the responses. I have no doubt, as you point out, it is possible to track which egg producers are cage-free and which aren’t. My concern is that HSUS is announcing a “victory” here with no stated intent or procedure for verifying that Wal-Mart will actually buy from cage-free producers.

    • David Bernazani says:

      I see a lot of folks here have questions about what exactly “cage-free” means, why it will take so long, and are skeptical about Walmart in general. All valid concerns. Cageless chicken housing is somewhat better than those horrid old battery cages, but still not adequate enough for me to purchase eggs at any store. I occasionally get some from a lady who rescues chickens and lets them roam around her little horse boarding ranch. If you have any doubts about where yours come from and how the layers are treated, I suggest you look for someone like her who you can meet personally, and see the chickens for yourself.
      And if I DID buy eggs from a store, I think Johnny-come-lately Walmart, with its greedy and uncaring business practices, would be the last place I’d go. But I still applaud the HSUS for helping make at least some improvements in the lives of all those millions of birds.

      • Leigh says:

        I thought Walmart took its time getting on board, too. Seems like instead of being a leader in changing the way laying hens are treated they only did it when they might start “looking bad”

    • Vicki Gibson says:

      You have a good point, however, I am sure they will be watched. And there is a growing movement of ‘good will’ with produce that is growing in the US and Canada. So, lets just keep an eye on them. Bad press will hurt them, as it has in the past. People will get eggs where they trust. I know I do! They will have to show that their eggs ARE legit. If we people watch, that is what makes the difference.:) Just a thought. Cheers, Vicki in Canada

    • Paul says:


  3. Veronica Montoya says:

    My question is why is it taking so long? The people decided and voted against these cages a few years ago and HSUS gave these places several more years to put this in place. So why are you asking for more money when the battery cages are still being used? I believe that I heard it would only cost 1 penny more per dozen eggs is that true?

    • Vicki Gibson says:

      From what I can tell in Canada, it costs a lot more for you to buy such eggs. And I pay it, although I don’t think I should have to pay so much. However, one egg producer in Ontario Canada, loves his hens, and has them in a barn AND an open lot, so they can roam, run, and be free. The lab PROVED his eggs to be the highest in nutritional value. High in Vc, D. B’s, etc, etc. His eggs were also 7.50 per dozen, as it took a lot longer for him to gather up the eggs as they were free ranging nests. Still, HIS chickens did not have any bare spots, bare bums, worn or unhappy looking critters. They were curious and came up to see him when he came into the barn and yard. When they told him after the national BLIND taste test with a group of others that were checked for taste and quality of nutrition, he actually cried to know his was the best, as he said to them and CBC, it validated his efforts for being humane in treatment of his animals. Good on him! If we had more caring farms to start with, none of these actions would ever be needed. There was a time, when farmers did care about their animals more than just food and fodder. Big box productions changed all that attitude! Our foods need not suffer, as that is not honouring our stewardship here on this planet, nor does it create good health either! Anyway, long story short, good eggs for now cost way more. The big box eggs are about 1.50 per doz in comparison. However, I can’t look at eggs any more without seeing the suffering. So I want to feel OK about the critter giving me breakfast. You also know such hens that go to meat market are also BETTER flesh than the others as well! Like, no brainer, right? I may not eat as many eggs, but I can look myself in the mirror too, and support such great farmers! Cheers! Vicki.

      • David Bernazani says:

        Vicki, yep, I pay $6 (US) per dozen eggs from the chicken rescued, so I don’t buy so many, but the ones I do eat are large and full of flavor, with nice orange yolks, not those pale, anemic, sickly-looking eggs I remember getting from grocery stores.
        And I love visiting her ranch and petting the chickens that are wandering around. So to me, that $6 is well worth it!

  4. Tamara Barnes says:

    No cages does not mean humane containment. Hens are still crammed in airless huge barns by the thousands.

    • Ally Druckemiller says:

      I agree. There also has been investigations on “free-range” and found that hens were just as confined as they were in cages. Has this been addressed with as well, once cages are eliminated?

  5. Jane Steinberg says:

    Cage-free alone doesn’t mean humane. We have seen cage-free birds so crowded together in a poultry barn that some are crippled and maimed, even crushed to death. Those may not be laying hens, but rather birds destined for butchering, but inhumane is inhumane. Is there any hope for those?

    • Vicki Gibson says:

      You are so right! The definition of proper treatment has not really been defined for this. A setting that is crammed is no less healthy than the cages. Period. Pigs have proven that one long ago, yet where are we? I guess eating veggies and fruits will have to be the new thinking to protest such abuses. About all I can think of doing next. The bottom line is food that people are demanding. Big box companies and our need for chicken everything places pressure for high output of such foods. And the animal is no longer viewed as a critter but a faceless piece of merchandise! That is the problem with the entire industry as it stands today. We need to change our attitudes toward what we eat and how much of it and how if foods suffer or not. Unless that happens, billions on the earth will rule the ‘faceless factor’ for all food production even more than it does today. How sad is that, eh? And it need not be this way at all….that is the true tragedy of the picture. No wonder we loose species every year due to our careless and heartless production methods. “You cannot eat gold. When something is gone, it is lost forever. ‘ is an old native saying….but you would think so in today’s methods!

  6. Constance Pepin says:

    “The policy will be fully implemented by 2025” which means 9 more years of millions of hens suffering in cages. I do not understand why people who negotiate these agreements settle for just distant deadlines. If it’s important to do, it’s important to do NOW! The excuses about transitions taking time are disingenuous–if the company could make money off a change, it would do so quickly–certainly much sooner than 9 years out. Such a distant deadline questions their credibility and intentions.

  7. Michele Koskinen says:

    The cages are indeed horrible, but I’ve also seen, and heard about, the also horrible conditions of many huge facilities where the hens are just as crowded, the reek is just as bad, and the lack of bars makes a fairly negligible improvement. I hope this is not what this agreement is offering.

  8. Cynthia says:

    Wonderful, wonderful news!

  9. Sally Palmer says:

    It’s crazy that it takes this much work to get others to do something about what the majority of us see instantly as needed, but obviously it’s wonderful that you understand this how the world works and you and your colleagues have seen this important shift in how people see animals through. Inch by inch you will fight to take back what God gave animals to begin with–their own special way of life– and some people have taken away out of ignorance, greed, or meanness.

  10. donald kunkel says:

    it’s about time they said no to cage birds yes it’s time to do so !!!!
    sign don kunkel

  11. Jeff Torres says:

    Cage free does not mean the hens are being treated better. It just means that instead of living in cages they live with thousands of other hens in a crowded hen house with no lighting or fresh air. “cage free” is a misleading phrase that fools the consumer into thinking that the hens have this great life since they don’t live in cages. People should look into what exactly cage free means before celebrating. Matter of fact, it’s probably easier and cheaper for the farmer to have one giant hen house instead off hundreds of cages….so who is really benefitting from “cage free”?? The hens? When you write an article celebrating wal mart going to free range hens then you can brag and mark the date on your calendar.

    • Kevin says:

      Also is it safer or more dangerous for them to be cage free? Won’t it increase the chances of altercations breaking out? I don’t know the answers and so I’m asking these questions. I only buy eggs that are Certified Humane because I trust that label more than “Organic” or “Cage Free”.

    • Roxanne Burke says:

      I agree. Free range is the best possible outcome. If it takes until 2025 to go cage free, I will be dead and gone without ever seeing free range hens. I have been eating as few egg products as possible, hope it helps.

    • Karen says:

      I agree! But this is definitely progress!

    • B. Walter says:

      The assertion that poultry facilities would be airless is wrong. Air must be brought in to take ammonia build up out or the birds would suffocate post haste. Lacking a facility that puts the hens in a relatively confined area would mean having to range far and wide to gather the eggs. Having them roam free outside would expose them to predators and infestations of Northern Fowl Mites. The main problem I see is agribusiness instead of agriculture, and the notion of bigger somehow being better. Smaller and more numerous facilities would solve a lot of the problems that plague the giant facilities.

    • Mimi says:

      My point exactly. Lol

  12. AVIS HOLT says:

    This is FANTASTIC news! Now, instead of taking this for granted, I hope the right people keep on top of it to make sure it’s really happening.

  13. nancy messer says:

    What great news ! When one hears about such things it feels good. There is so much suffering, cruel treatment ,abuse and killings that when something comes about positive it makes you want to go on fighting in wherever small way one can. My hat is off to all of you for the great work you do .To be honest , I lack what it takes to take it easy and wait for things to change therefore I sit and sign whatever petition I can to help and dream I will see the day when animals are no longer suffering at the hands of humans..

  14. Dianne Rowe says:

    At last some GOOD news regarding animals kept for food production. A HUGE well done to everyone concerned – something to cluck about for sure!!

  15. Randy T Clark says:

    I am glad they are off bondage of cramp world no love they need to feel love more eggs the more love increase eggs cage cramp free from cage love

  16. Kim Oppelt says:

    This is GREAT news! But will they be cage free? Or pastured? Big difference…..(baby steps, but I’m just wondering…)

  17. Maria says:

    Bravo!! Congratulations!

  18. Frederick Fuller says:

    Wonderful news. However, cage free does not mean pastured. They could still be massed in some filthy barn where they mill around without seeing the sun. I hope we can get chickens in the pasture, to run free. Thank you for what you do.

    • Trish says:

      My thought exactly! Hopefully cage free is a step forward but it may just be another loophole for those who mass produce eggs.

  19. bonnie anderson says:

    Does “cage-free” also mean humanely raised? I have read that “cage-free” can sometimes be misleading in that the hens are still in very over-crowded conditions, although not crammed in a cage. Are there parameters that the industry has to follow so that the hens are humanely raised?


    This is such a good thing for the chickens. When I was a child I won a black chicken at the State Fair and it never needed caging. When I would come home from School Blackie as I called her would meet me at our property line. She was such a sweet hen I can’t imagine anyone caging chickens in order to raise them for the profit the give to their owners. Little things mean a lot and I hope that the other industries follow suit.

  21. Michelle Jones says:

    Why does it take so long to make these changes? I understand that a lot of time and money will go into retrofitting the farms to make them cage free, but does that mean nine years? Also, what does “cage free” mean exactly? Are they just going to contain the chickens in slightly larger living spaces, or will they be able to move around, get fresh air, sunlight, and enjoy their natural behaviors? I’d like to see more specific details on how this will role out. The current information is too general and nonspecific.

    I have been avoiding meat and other animal products for the last few years as a result of what I’ve learned about factory farming. Lamb has been “off the table” for 13 years. It’s not easy when you have lived most of your life eating these kind of foods. I look at my pets and realize that all these other animals are as unique and feeling. Consuming them is just wrong, and so much worse when their lives are horrendous.

    I look forward to a day when no animal suffers at the hand of man for fun, entertainment, or profit.

  22. Clare Rosenfield says:

    But they are not completely cage-free until 9 more years??? Why so long a time span to phase out? Congratulations on your successes but not happy about the timing.

  23. Annett says:

    I been waiting for this for awhile .. I am so excited to know that big coorporations taking a stand against animal cruelty such as having hens being caged !

  24. Donna Lagomarsino says:


  25. Jenny says:

    What a fabulous day! Can you give any information about the proposed alternative? I certainly don’t want to sound negative because this is a major success. Are the egg producers still going to use those massive barns where hens have no chance of getting in the fresh air because there is only one tiny exit at one end of a barn the size of a football field?

  26. Kim Mac Leod says:

    The persistence of HSUS in this effort should be lauded. While individuals can do their part, it is the clout of your organization that has given clarity and credibility to creating an economy and world that values humane treatment – for hens and others. Our thanks for your collective efforts.

  27. Sofie Buschman says:

    There were MANY good questions about whether they will be pasture raised or in those crowded stuffy barns. Also about why will it take 9 years for the changes. Could you respond to the comments you received so that ALL of us will have a better understanding.

    Thank you for all your hard work and efforts.

  28. Ricci says:

    They need to do this with their pork too. Pigs are equally as confined.

    • Angela napier says:

      That was a question I had too..What about the poor cows and calf’s.. And pigs..when is someone going to help them to..helping the chickens is awesome..but what about the suckie life the others live..

    • David Bernazani says:

      Ricci: Yes, the HSUS is fighting for gestation-free housing for pigs, bans on veal crates, and, well, every other improvement for factory-farmed animals you can think of (as well as all other animals).
      In the mean time, The best way for you to personally help them is to simply stop buying meat, eggs and dairy. Millions of vegans live healthy and cruelty-free lifestyles, and are better off without the carcasses.

  29. Héctor Castillo Juárez says:

    Well, it is social pressure given the US market. In Mexico Wallmart does not care about it.

  30. Lesley says:

    All they have to do is say they will not buy any eggs from caged chickens after the end of THIS year. Walmart sells millions of eggs each year and there are plenty of suppliers who will do what they have to do to get their business. 9 years? Really? How long does it take to open a cage door?

    • Karen Dresel says:

      I totally agree with you Lesley! it should be mandatory that they are held to their word and be in compliance by the end of this year! Take those 9 years and use those years for developing ways HOW to keep them in compliance!
      Just because they are cage free does NOT mean it will be a humane existence for these birds. We now need to lay the rules down for what exactly is cage free and humane and make them stick.
      On the more positive note, even baby steps ARE steps when they are made in the right direction!

  31. Karen says:

    Don’t believe a word Walmart says , have seen their business practices first hand and whatever they need to do to make 1/10th of a penny more I. Profit they will do .

  32. Lisa Holsonback says:

    Thankyou. SO very MUCH… its a Start! …

  33. Alan Parrillo says:

    Somewhat guarded good news. Why 9 more years? Every inch forward is good news but tell that hen, 9 more years. Guys…, we all love every move in the right direction and love your dedication but the next move forward.., stand a much harder ground. Thank You..!

  34. Rachael Cain says:

    I am very happy for this victory! I just hope that there will be monitoring of conditions. Thank you for being a voice for the animals!

  35. Marilyn says:

    NINE YEARS???? 2025??? Seriously? ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Ruby says:

    Great news for the hens, but what about Mc Donalds putting new born chicks through a grinder and making processed chicken Mc nuggets? When is this practice going to end? These chicks are ground alive! How horrible!

  37. Suzanne Meyers says:

    This is a joke….really….cage free…and 9 years more to take effect? You got to be kidding. All the thousands of thousands of chickens that will endure the inhumane treatment is what I see. this is such a joke. And cage free? Yep 1000’s stuffed in a fenced in area and still i consider this inhumane!!!! I’m sick over this….this is so disturbing…I don’t call a victory what so ever!

  38. Angela napier says:

    Not being caged is awesome..but not being stuffed in housing so tight that they have no life sucks…I’ve seen the videos where they are packed in with no room…their legs..and wings get broke..and they are left to die..they workers throw them down hole’s… The workers are a big problem in these places..they throw them against the walls..and stomp them…so no cages..and free range would be awesome…then they can live like they should..oh..and get rid of the butt hole workers…

  39. Moe Browning says:

    I am glad to hear that SeaWorld has finally gave in about breeding; but very disturbed to hear that the Humane Society is collaborating with them when they have admitted they will not release the orcas, or any other animal trapped in their parks. It will be much harder to fight for the orcas freedom, now that they have the Humane Society’s approval.

  40. patchur white says:

    ‘allow your
    to become
    ‘allow your
    to become
    ‘save all the endangered species!!’
    ‘save all the endangered species!!’

  41. Wendy South says:

    Why 9 years from now? I am glad they acknowledge that hens need to be free, but why not sooner? Can you imagine how many chickens are going to suffer in 9 years, do the math.

  42. Olga Lebon says:

    Right now, what I see in stores, just makes me sick: every store have one stack of cage-free egg boxes that cost around 6 bucks, and lots of other “organic”, “vegetable-fed”, “large” etc, some from the same producer, that cost 2-3 bucks. Walmart is the same way. Like on purpose–to show that cage-free production is not going to survive because no one buys those eggs. I wonder if the farmers let couple of hens out of cages, then just allocating the percentage of their eggs as “cage-free” to go waste in stores by pricing them three times more expensive. I wonder if the farmers get their way to petition the government to stop the cage-free campaign or something. I live in Seattle area.

  43. Lucille says:

    Thank you. Now please work on speeding up the process. Make sure the hens are better off and have more freedom to go outside. Also work on the confinement of veal calves and pigs kept in darkness, in crates so small they can not even turn around. And set free mama pigs in gestation crates.

  44. Adrienne Bishop says:

    This is GREAT news! Maybe not the perfect scenario, but you have to start somewhere. Thank you HSUS and all the other organizations that have fought so hard for this step forward.

  45. Teresa Lopes says:

    No cage confinement is good, but what will their confinement move to? Very skeptical. Will these farms be monitored? And 9 years is crazy long! Why is that?

  46. Vic says:

    This is great news but, what about the BILLIONS of male chicks who are ground alive or suffocated to death because they cannot lay eggs!? WHAT ABOUT THAT!??????

  47. Vishesh says:

    let’s become vegetarian together..??

  48. Phala Bowles says:


  49. Calvin says:

    They’ll change bc it means they can jack the price up that’s all its about

  50. Charles says:

    “Fully implemented by 2025” I guess it takes 9 years to make the change?

  51. Joyce says:

    If only it was faster and easier to make positive changes.

  52. Steffen D says:

    It might be best for us all to GO to some farms, see first hand, where possible, how chickens live. I’m saying city folks dont know, they need to check it out for themselves

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