SUPERVALU, one of the nation's largest supermarket chains, recently pledged to ensure 100 percent of the eggs it sells come from cage-free hens by 2025.
“Our decision to move toward selling only cage-free eggs reflects our ongoing commitment to improving animal welfare practices across the industry,” said Mark Van Buskirk, SUPERVALU’s executive vice president for merchandising, marketing and retail. “Because there is currently a limited supply of cage-free eggs, the transition will take time.”
The Minnesota-based grocer operates about 3,400 stores, including Cub Foods and Save-A-Lot. The company is the latest to commit to ending the practice of confining hens to battery cages so tightly that the birds can’t spread their wings.
“SUPERVALU’s policy is going to improve life for millions of animals,” said Josh Balk, a senior policy director at The Humane Society of the United States. “We appreciate the company’s work with us and urge the few remaining top grocers lacking cage-free commitments to join the rest of their industry in getting chickens out of cages.
SUPERVALU could phase in the new policy more quickly, depending on available supply, affordability and demand. “We will continue to work with our suppliers to move as quickly as possible toward a sustainable, 100 percent cage-free egg supply chain,” Buskirk said.
Other companies committed to the cage-free movement include:
- Retailers: Ahold, Albertson’s Co., Aldi, Bashas’, BJ’s Wholesale, Costco, CVS, Delhaize, Kroger, Loblaw, Metro, Raley’s, Sobey’s, Sprouts, States Bros., Target, The Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Wawa, Weis Markets and Whole Foods.
- Restaurants: Au Bon Pain, Bloomin’ Brands, Bob Evans, Boston Pizza, Burger King, Caribou Coffee, Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, Cheesecake Factory, Chick-fil-A, Cracker Barrel, Darden, Denny’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Einstein Brothers, Golden Corral, IHOP, Jack in the Box, Qdoba, Krystal, Le Pain Quotidien, McDonald’s, MTY Group, Noodles & Co., P.F. Chang’s, Panera Bread, Quiznos, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, Shake Shack, Shoney’s, Sonic, Starbucks, Subway, T.G.I. Friday’s, Taco Bell, Taco John’s, The Second Cup, Wendy’s and White Castle.
- Egg producers: Gemperle Farms, Hickman’s, Michael Foods, Rembrandt Foods, Rose Acre .
- Food manufacturers: Barilla, Campbell Soup, ConAgra Foods, Flowers Foods, General Mills, Grupo Bimbo, Hood, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Heinz, Mars Inc., Mondelez, PepsiCo, Nestle, Schwan’s and Unilever.
- Hospitality industry: Carnival Corp., Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Virgin America.
Just days before SUPERVALU’s announcement, PepsiCo committed to using 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2020 in North America and 2025 globally.
“Being the world’s second largest food manufacturer, PepsiCo’s initiative to exclusively commit to cage-free eggs by 2025 speaks strongly toward this becoming a global industry standard,” said David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, a grassroots group dedicated to ending the caging of hens in the egg industry.
Animal rights advocates emphasized that cage-free is an improvement for hens, but it does not mean “cruelty free.”
Battery cage vs. cage-free
The vast majority of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined to battery cages, according to The Humane Society of the United States. On average, each caged laying hen is afforded 67 square inches of space — less space than a sheet of letter-sized paper. These hens cannot spread their wings and are among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness.
The HSUS says cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests. Most cage-free hens live in flocks that can consist of many thousands of hens that never go outside. The majority of cage-free hens live on farms that are third-party audited by certification programs that mandate perching and dust-bathing areas. However, caged hens also can suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust-bathing.
Also, both battery-caged and cage-free hens come from hatcheries that typically kill male chicks. Both battery-caged and cage-free hens can have part of their beaks burned off. And the hens in both systems are typically slaughtered at less than 2 years old.
“While cage-free does not necessarily mean cruelty-free, cage-free hens generally have significantly better lives than those confined in battery cages,” the HSUS says. “The ability to lay their eggs in nests, run and spread their wings are tangible benefits that shouldn't be underestimated.”