In 2015, Sodexo—one of the world’s largest food service companies—worked with The HSUS to announce that it would eliminate cage confinement of chickens from its egg supply by switching to 100 percent cage-free eggs. The company was an early mover in an industry-wide shift toward cage-free purchasing practices.
But because conventional cage production came to dominate the industry so thoroughly, there was, just until a couple of years ago, relatively little infrastructure developed to produce eggs by the billions from cage-free farms. This meant that major food retailers couldn’t make the conversion to a cage-free egg supply in short order. There were not enough producers with hens living in cage-free settings.
We understood that these companies had to embrace lengthy phase-ins while new cage-free capacity was created; for Sodexo, that goal was 2025. Now, just two years into its 10-year time horizon to fulfill its pledge of going 100 percent cage free, Sodexo has announced that it will meet its goal—and much quicker than anticipated, with a whopping 70 percent of all its eggs on track to be cage-free by spring of next year.
Similarly, in 2016, The HSUS teamed up with Darden—operator of Olive Garden and other leading restaurant chains—to announce that the company would switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs for all of its products. The timeline Darden gave itself and its suppliers to make the conversion? Just two years—by 2018. And how is Darden living up to that commitment? “We are on track to meet our goal of sourcing all of our egg products from cage-free housing farms by the end of this year,” according to an update on Darden’s website.
This progress extends beyond food retailers to the agricultural companies actually producing animal products. Last year, we helped Perdue—one of the largest poultry producers—announce that it would move forward on a suite of important animal welfare reforms to provide chickens with better living conditions and to render the conditions of slaughter less cruel. Fast forward to this year, and the company has already announced further progress toward that goal.
And the progress reaches beyond our borders as well. In response to a groundswell of animal welfare commitments in South America—thanks to the work of Humane Society International and other organizations—Grupo Mantiqueira (one of the 12 largest egg producers in the world and the largest egg producer in Brazil and South America) has announced a new cage-free line. This is the first time the company has invested in producing cage-free eggs, and will undoubtedly help companies in the region meet their animal welfare pledges.
Of course, there are still major animal welfare problems in industrial agriculture. Hundreds of millions of animals remain locked in cages and crates, and billions more are suffering in other ways. But let’s celebrate the idea that there are strong signals for positive movement and indicators of larger changes on the horizon. We’re committed to driving things forward—not only by working with companies to continue making pledges to eliminate cruel practices, but also by seeing those commitments brought to fruition. And if these latest signs coming from the food industry are any indicator, transformative change for animals is upon us and gaining momentum.