McDonald’s Corp. said Wednesday morning that it plans to start using cage-free eggs at its 16,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada over the next 10 years, citing consumers’ changing opinions about animal welfare.
The shift will be monumental for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based burger giant, which purchases well over 2 billion eggs in the U.S. and Canada every year for its breakfast items, and will start offering breakfast all day nationwide next month.
“Our customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about their food and where it comes from,” McDonald’s USA President Mike Andres said in a statement. “Our decision to source only cage-free eggs reinforces the focus we place on food quality and our menu to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations.”
McDonald’s joins a growing number of concepts that have pledged to use cage-free eggs in the coming years, including Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. It is also by far the largest.
“This is a watershed moment in a decades-long effort to eliminate the cruelest confinement from our food society,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement reacting to the announcement. Pacelle’s organization has long worked to push chains to source cage-free eggs. “McDonald’s admirable move makes clear that egg productions’ future is cage-free.”
The move also comes as McDonald's struggling to reverse years of declining sales, has made other moves to increase its credibility among consumers who are placing a priority on the treatment of animals. Earlier this year, for instance, it pledged to stop using antibiotics to promote growth in chicken.
“We’re proud of the work we’re doing with farmers and suppliers to advance environmentally and socially conscious practices for the animals in our supply chain,” Marion Gross, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer of McDonald’s North America, said in a statement. “This is a bold move and we’re confident in our ability to provide a quality, safe, and consistent supply.”
McDonald’s move didn’t satisfy some of the chain’s critics, who noted that the company would take a decade to make the transition. In a statement Wednesday morning, longtime McDonald’s critic Corporate Accountability International said McDonald’s “is replacing real action with more PR” and that “if it were serious about making these changes for the right reasons, the corporation would take action now and celebrate when those actions are complete.”
Given its size, McDonald’s move promises to be a major shift in the domestic supply chain of eggs. As it is, however, McDonald’s USA has been purchasing more than 13 million cage-free eggs every year.
The chain highlighted one such farm it works with, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Michigan.
“Cage-free systems play an important role in our work to keep hens healthy and meet the growing consumer demand for responsibly-sourced food,” Greg Herbruck, executive vice president of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, said in a statement. “We welcome McDonald’s actions to continue these efforts and are pleased to join them in sourcing cage-free eggs across their supply chain.”
McDonald’s adopted a standard for housing systems to give hens more space in 2000. And in 2010 the company started research to understand the impact of hen housing systems on animal health, the environment, worker health, food safety and affordability. The company says that research has provided it with insights into the tradeoffs of various housing systems.
Last month, the company quickly cut ties with a Tennessee poultry farm after an animal rights group obtained video of birds being mistreated there.
“Animal welfare has always been important to us and our customers,” Gross said. “Today’s announcement is another big milestone building on our work with industry experts and suppliers to improve the treatment of animals.”