Similar pledges have been undertaken by food manufacturers like Grupo Bimbo, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Otis Spunkmeyer, Sara Lee and PepsiCo; foodservice concerns Compass and Sodexo; fast food giants McDonald’s and Burger King; and retailers Wal-Mart, Safeway and Aldi Nord, among others.
General Mills said its policy will affect all its products sold in more than 100 countries, including Japan, Thailand, Australia, Germany, France, Russia, Israel, Brazil and Mexico.
These include Betty Crocker baking and cake mixes and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
The move has again been praised by the Open Wing Alliance, the largest international cage-free campaign initiated by The Humane League earlier this year.
“Open Wing Alliance members will continue to work together to ensure a cage-free future for hens across the globe,” The Humane League executive director, David Coman-Hidy said.
What the law has ruled
Companies that are switching to cage-free eggs said they are doing so because more humane treatment is favored by customers.
However, cage-free does not always mean the chickens are allowed to run free.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared a cage-free chicken as one that can freely roam an enclosed area and does not necessary have access to the outdoors.
According to Prof Darrin Karcher, poultry specialist at Indiana’s Purdue University, “from a science standpoint there is nothing I am aware of that would allow us to say the birds are happier in [a cage-free facility] versus the other.”
This was confirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on February 27, that ruled cage-free hens don’t improve food safety or nutrition levels.
The plaintiffs, led by Compassion over Killing and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, contended caged hens produce eggs that are nutritionally inferior and carry a greater risk of Salmonella contamination.
The judges ruled in favor of the defendants, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
According to the defendant’s attorneys, the FDA reviewed every study the animal activists presented and found “insufficient evidence” that caged hens produce eggs with a higher incidence of Salmonella than eggs from cage-free hens.
It was the same for nutritional value.
“The studies failed to control the hens’ diet, location, and age, or the breed of hens, which made it impossible to determine to what extent, if any, the observed differences could be attributed to the production environment, i.e. caged versus free-range,” countered the attorneys.
Glossary of egg terms*
- Cage-free: Chicken can “freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle, but does not have access to the outdoors.”
- Free-range: Hens must have access to outdoor space, no matter how small, even a screened-in porch.
- Organic: eggs marked with the USDA’s National Organic Program label are laid by uncaged hens that are fed an organic diet produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.
- Omega-3 enriched: eggs from hens fed a regular diet with added fatty acids, including flax or chia seeds, fish oil or algae. The USDA requires that cartons must state the amount of omega-3 each egg contains, which can be five times higher than other eggs.
- Pasteurized: Eggs have been heated in an effort to destroy pathogens.
*Supplied by the USDA.