Carnival Cruises and Dunkin' Donuts join cage-free egg movement

Animal welfare advocates that have been pressuring food retailers to switch to cage-free eggs had plenty to celebrate going into the holiday season. On December 23, cruise giant Carnival ($CCL) announced that all of its ships will be serving cage-free eggs by 2025. The move came close on the heels of a similar announcement from Dunkin Brands' ($DKDN) doughnut chain. Both companies made their announcements in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has been at the forefront of the cage-free movement.

Carnival owns 11 cruise brands, including Princess Cruises, Holland America and Seabourn. "Carnival Corporation and our brands recognize animal welfare is an important issue for our guests, and addressing it is part of our ongoing commitment to how we operate," said Roger Frizzell, chief communications officer with Carnival Corporation, in a press release.

Concern about the health and welfare of hens kept in cramped cages prompted groups like the Humane Society to campaign for companies to only buy from egg suppliers that give animals more freedom. Over the summer, food producer General Mills ($GIS) and fast-food giant McDonald's ($MCD) led the way, both announcing plans to switch to cage-free eggs. Taco Bell made a similar promise later in the year.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the HSUS, noted that ending confinement practices on egg-producing farms could also lessen the impact of illnesses such as the avian influenza outbreak that wreaked havoc on the food industry in early 2015. Ultimately the virus caused the loss of 48 million poultry, an estimated 5% drop in egg production and, at one point, a 120% increase in the price of large eggs. Pacelle suggested in a summertime blog item that the outbreak should encourage the egg industry to rethink its production strategies and move away from cages all together.

Pacelle reported in a year-end blog entry that in 2015, more than a dozen companies vowed to switch to cage-free eggs, leading the organization to list "ending the era of extreme confinement on factory farms" as one of its top 10 victories of the year. "The HSUS has led the fight for laying hens for years, but 2015 was the year of greatest results for these long-suffering birds by far," Pacelle wrote.

- here's the Humane Society's press release about Carnival 
- read about Dunkin' Donuts' cage-free pledge at the Chicago Tribune
- get more at the HSUS' blog