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May 20, 2011

McDonald’s Takes Initial Positive Step by Starting to Use Cage-Free Eggs in the U.S.

When I upgraded our efforts to combat factory farming a half-dozen years ago, a top priority was to end the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens in barren battery cages—a practice that’s harsh and unacceptable, and inconsistent with our values about the care of animals. Our then-new campaign director, Paul Shapiro, had spent many years prior to his arrival at The HSUS publicizing the horrors of battery cages, and our campaign would aim to step up the campaign and turn around the situation.

Since that time, tens of millions of Americans have learned about the plight of laying hens; major egg production states like California and Michigan have enacted important legislative reforms; Washington and Oregon have pending ballot measures on the topic; scores of major food purveyors have adopted policies to start switching to cage-free eggs; and virtually no enterprise or entrepreneur in the egg industry is still installing new battery cages in the United States.

Chickens at a cage-free facility
The HSUS

But in spite of all this progress, the nation’s largest buyer of eggs, McDonald’s, for years refused to use even a single cage-free egg, even though all of the eggs it uses in McDonald’s European restaurants come from cage-free hens.

But this week, Paul spoke at the company’s shareholder meeting where McDonald’s announced that it would begin buying 12 million cage-free eggs a year, meaning approximately 50,000 fewer hens will know the confines of a battery cage as a result.

This is certainly a positive step, though this number of eggs still represents less than 1 percent of McDonald’s total egg use in the United States. Compared to Unilever’s press release this week that it’s switching 100 percent of its eggs to cage-free, affecting 1.8 million birds, McDonald’s isn’t exactly a leader on this issue, but at least it’s now finally taking a positive step—albeit a small one for a company with its resources and capabilities. Last week, I read a story in USA Today that the company was investing $1 billion in an exterior makeover of its outlets, and I thought, where’s the investment in animal welfare and public health and nutrition? The least the company could do was to switch to cage-free eggs.

Interestingly, McDonald’s in the EU has already done so—phasing in 100 percent cage-free eggs. While yesterday’s announcement is a breakthrough, it must be seen as the beginning for McDonald’s in our country.

Six years ago, few people thought it was likely that we’d be seeing such significant emphasis being paid to the welfare of egg-laying hens in our nation’s corporate boardrooms, on the ballot, and in the press. When we started our campaign, cage-free eggs represented 2 percent of the total egg market in the United States, and today that number has quadrupled to 8 percent of market share.

As I write in The Bond, we’re told that not a sparrow falls without his Maker knowing. He, and we, are also concerned about these millions of birds conscripted into egg production, and we must do better.

P.S. As an update to yesterday’s blog, many of you were very upset to read that the dogs from a shuttered Missouri puppy mill, S&S Family Puppies, are being auctioned off to other mills rather than having a chance at loving homes. I’m appealing to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to allow dogs like these to be taken in by shelters and rescue groups in the future, so they can find better lives after their ordeal.

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