McDonald’s, by far the largest chain restaurant in the US, has made a major commitment to changing the way it sources its eggs.
This morning (Sept. 9), the super-sized chain announced that it would fully transition its Canadian and American egg supply to cage-free eggs over the next 10 years. The chain attributed the change to consumer preferences. “Our customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about their food and where it comes from,” said McDonald’s USA president Mike Andres. A company spokesperson told Quartz that it did not anticipate any impact on prices.
The company has tremendous buying power: McDonald’s USA buys approximately 2 billion eggs annually; the Canadian arm purchases about 120 million. (Those US numbers will likely go up once it begins its all-day breakfast service in October.) The Humane Society of the United States called the announcement a “watershed moment for animal welfare.” McDonald’s follows more than 60 other major chains, including Burger King and Starbucks, that have made similar announcements.
Still, though, approximately 94% of table eggs in the US come from hens raised in cages that provide between 67 and 86 square inches per bird, less space than a typical sheet of paper and not enough for the chickens to spread their wings. The United Egg Producers, the US egg industry trade group, says that this is enough space to “optimize animal welfare” and provides a “safe, comfortable environment.” Animal welfare advocates disagree, however. HSUS says battery cages, which have been banned in Europe since 2012, make egg-laying hens ”among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness.”
Cage-free eggs, meanwhile, usually come from hens raised in large barns. While these conditions are not considered perfect—there is generally no outdoor access, for example—they are seen as a major improvement from caged environments. (If continuous outdoor access is given, the eggs become “free-range.”)
Steve Easterbrook has said many times since taking over as McDonald’s CEO earlier this year that he wants the company to be a “modern, progressive burger company.” Announcements like this one, as well as the decision to only source chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine by 2017, seem to move in that direction.