Within the last six months or so, we've worked with many of the biggest names in the food business to announce their commitment to stop selling eggs from caged hens. Aramark, Compass Group, Dunkin Brands, Hilton, Kellogg, Nestle, Sodexo, Starbucks, and Walmart have all made public pledges to shift their egg-purchasing practices away from battery cage confinement systems. Today, we're pleased to announce that General Mills, one of the nation's largest food makers, is joining the list.
"We commit to working toward 100 percent cage free eggs for our U.S. operations," says General Mills – which owns brands like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Progresso Soups, and Hamburger Helper – in its new policy. "We recognize that the current avian influenza outbreak has been deeply disruptive to the U.S. egg supply and producers. As the industry works to rebuild its supply chain, we will work with suppliers to determine a path and reasonable timeline toward this commitment."
General Mills is grounding its policy on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, a set of principles that will translate into better outcomes for all of the animals in its supply chain. With the Five Freedoms in mind, the company's policy pledges continual improvement by also examining solutions to solve other key animal welfare concerns, including subjecting animals to tail docking, de-horning, and, without the administration of pain killers, castration. It's also translating into an examination of issues related to rapid growth of broiler chickens and turkeys.
Certainly the highlight of this announcement is the commitment to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs. And as the egg industry considers its production strategies in light of the impact of bird flu on cage confinement facilities, there's an opportunity for the industry to pivot away from caging hens altogether and make the transition to higher-welfare, cage-free systems.
Commodities expert Urner Barry recently reported that cage facilities have been hit much harder by bird flu than cage-free facilities. In many parts of the country, prices for battery-cage eggs doubled at the height of the outbreak. Because the volume of birds in a single cage confinement facility is so large, if even a single bird gets sick, then the entire flock must be killed – a devastating outcome for the birds and the farmers.
Common sense and sound science tell us that warehousing animals in cramped cages is bad for both the animals and for us. The veal industry is eliminating its cruel crates. Many of the largest pork producers are eliminating gestation crates. And now, with many food companies like General Mills pledging to eliminate chicken cages from their egg supplier chains, the egg industry can accelerate its own shift toward cage-free housing. For the sake of animals and consumers, it can't happen fast enough.