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As Cage-Free Momentum Soars, Companies Like Wendy's Lag Far Behind Competitors

It's clear that consumer outreach can motivate these companies to do the right thing, we just need more of it right now.

Wendy's in Athens, Ohio. (Photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Wendy's in Athens, Ohio. (Photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A future without cages is upon us. Over the last decade, consumers and nonprofits have convinced nearly 400 companies in the US that transitioning to cage-free eggs is the right thing to do. All of these companies promised to ban the use of cages in their egg supply chain after consumers spoke out and showed their disgust of the practice. Of those hundreds of companies, forty-nine of them pledged to make the transition to cage-free happen by the end of 2020, or earlier. Several of them, rather than following through on their public promises, deleted mention of it from their websites and ignored requests for updates. As they attempt to shirk their commitments, we need to hold these companies accountable to the pledges they made to their shareholders, customers, and the media. 

In factory farms that still use cruel battery cages, six to ten chickens are packed together into one cage no larger than the drawer of a filing cabinet. The cages aren’t big enough for the chickens to even stand up or spread their wings. Each chicken has less space than the area of a sheet of paper to herself. When they naturally want to perch, dust-bathe, forage, stretch, and walk around, caged hens can’t do any of these things. When they try to form nests in private spaces so they can feel safe laying their eggs, there’s no privacy or even nesting material to work with inside the battery cage. Being cramped together like this with no personal space causes them extreme psychological stress, which causes aggravated cage-mates to peck at other the birds or pluck out each other's sensitive feathers. There’s nowhere to go besides on top of your own feces and filth.

It wasn't until consumers and animal advocates brought on widespread corporate and governmental change that a massive shift away from battery cages to cage-free housing has occurred in the US egg industry.

Ten years ago, almost all of the 300 million egg-laying hens in the US were forced to live their lives in these horrible conditions. It wasn't until consumers and animal advocates brought on widespread corporate and governmental change that a massive shift away from battery cages to cage-free housing has occurred in the US egg industry. Right now, at egg farms across the country, there are 81.9 million hens who have been spared from a miserable life in a cage.

Right now, at egg farms across the country, there are 81.9 million hens who have been spared from a miserable life in a cage, thanks to the progress that food companies have made over recent years. The USDA has reported substantial growth in the size of the cage-free hen flock every year for the past five years. Voters or state legislators have passed laws in six states, including California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, that will soon ban all sales of eggs produced by hens in cruel cages. The growth of the cage-free flock in the US is due to the many companies across the food sector that are sticking to their word and doing the work to prepare for these upcoming laws to go into place.

Brands like Four Seasons, Barilla, Taco Bell, Shake Shack, and Whole Foods have already transitioned 100% of their supply chains to be cage-free. And some of the largest companies in the industry, like Walmart, Panera, and Trader Joe’s, all with vast and complex supply chains, are reporting substantial progress on their animal welfare commitments, proving that the change is possible for companies of any size.

Unfortunately, this progress is offset by complete silence from a few companies that are straggling behind. Wendy's, Wawa, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Raley's, Opaa!, American Food and Vending, Southern Foodservice, Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse, and Omni Hotels and Resorts, said they'd be cage-free by now. A lack of transparency when questioned on their egg supply has shown that they aren't taking their commitments seriously. A Cage-Free Eggsposé released last month calls out companies failing to report on their progress toward eliminating cages from their supply chains.

It's clear that consumer outreach can motivate these companies to do the right thing, we just need more of it right now. The attention these companies received from the report already convinced Arby’s, Pita Pit, Nugget Market, and Lucky’s Market to disclose the progress they’ve made or if needed, update the timelines they’ll need to complete the full transition to cage-free.

If we want to truly eradicate the archaic practice of caging animals, it’s crucial that every company follows through on the welfare commitments they make, so that a cage-free future can be achieved. We can make that happen by telling companies that animal welfare is important to us and it should be important to them too. 

Michael Windsor

Michael Windsor is the Corporate Projects Lead at The Humane League, a global nonprofit that exists to end the abuse of animals raised for food. 

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