McDonald’s has become the latest fast-food giant to make a commitment to end the use of eggs produced by caged birds.
The company announced last week it would transition to using 100 per cent free-run eggs in its restaurants over the next 10 years. McDonald’s purchases approximately 120 million eggs from Canadian farmers each year for items served on its breakfast menu.
A moratorium on the building of new battery cage barns in the province was announced by Manitoba Egg Farmers in the fall of 2013. But the enriched cages systems, often called “furnished housing,” endorsed by some commercial producers at the time won’t meet the new standards being set by companies like McDonald’s.
“Our definition is that cage-free hens roam throughout the building or in defined sectors of a building. The building is equipped with perches, nesting areas and dust-bathing material,” said Adam Grachnik, a communications officer with the company.
Currently there are approximately a dozen operations in the province that meet these requirements, but Manitoba Egg Farmers doesn’t believe the changes announced by the fast-food company will present a problem for producers.
“Our egg farmers have proven they’re an innovative group and we will find a way to service this market,” said the association’s general manager Cory Rybuck.
That said, he believes that any producer looking to build or upgrade an egg barn would want to take changing attitudes on animal welfare into consideration.
McDonald’s is not the first food-service provider to publicly commit to cage-free eggs. Humane Society International notes that nearly 100 major companies, including Burger King, Nestle, Sodexo, Aramark, Heinz, Starbucks and Compass Group have already committed to going cage free, albeit on different timelines. The organization estimates that by McDonald’s adding its purchasing power to the movement, about eight million more birds will be moved out of battery cages and into free-run environments.
For its part, McDonald’s notes that it has worked with producers in reaching the decision to go cage free.
“Animal welfare has always been important to us and our guests,” said Rob Dick, senior supply chain director for McDonald’s Canada. “Today’s announcement is another milestone building on our work with industry experts and suppliers to improve the treatment of animals throughout our supply chain.”
In a press release, McDonald’s said it has been working towards improving hen housing since 2003 when it adopted a new standard for hen-housing systems that provided birds with more space than the official industry standard. In 2010, McDonald’s also initiated research with the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply to better understand the impact of various hen-housing systems on animal health and welfare, the environment, worker health, food safety and food affordability.
That study found that aviary housing cost an average of 23 per cent more than conventional or battery cage housing. However, the costs for enriched colony housing were only about four per cent higher than conventional housing, because while enriched colonies do require more space, they enabled better feed efficiency.
Enriched cages or furnished housing costs about 20 to 25 per cent more than conventional cage systems. Currently, about 20 of the province’s 155 egg farms have installed enriched cages in their barns.
But even as the desires of the marketplace continue to shift, Rybuck said producers will rise to the challenge while determining what system is right for their operation.
“Our farmers are happy to produce eggs to meet the needs of the marketplace, and yes that marketplace continues to change,” he said. “There will be new demands, but there are also new and different housing systems. And we have the innovative policies to find a way forward.”