By Julia Johnson
There is a 1 in 3 chance the egg you ate for breakfast in the United States was laid in a cage-free environment.
Surprised? In just six years, the proportion of the national flock raised cage-free has increased exponentially from only 10% in 2016 to around 35% today. To capture this progress, Compassion has released its sixth annual EggTrack report, highlighting 175 companies around the world that are making progress toward their cage-free commitments this year.
Cage-free eggs come from hens raised in systems where they have more space to move around and stretch their wings, showcasing natural behaviors with places to perch, scratch, nest and dust bathe. Cage-free operations are still in the minority as most hens are constrained to live in battery cages, only giving them space equivalent to the size of a piece of paper (8”x11”). Cages force hens to stand on painful metal flooring and fail to provide an environment that allows for positive physical and mental health indicators or, more simply, for a chicken to be a chicken.
Caging egg-laying hens is widely regarded as one of the worst factory farming practices.
Fortunately, companies and consumers are driving a global market shift to 100% cage-free eggs. This year, we’re proud of the twelve new companies Compassion in World Farming has worked with to make global cage-free commitments. In the U.S. in particular, three retailers met their commitments: Raley’s and Sprouts Farmers Market, which are now 100% cage-free, and Meijer, which is 100% cage-free for its Own Brands and is maintaining its commitment to using only cage-free eggs by 2025.
As consumer demand for higher welfare practices and alternatives continues to grow, Compassion in World Farming has expanded its reach, featuring 232 companies with cage-free commitments in the latest report. Overall, companies are reporting a 79.1% transition to cage-free. While companies have begun shifting away from cage-free systems, it’s essential to prioritize truly cage-free systems to better transform food systems in the U.S. and around the world.
Companies should engage their suppliers to ensure combination and limited access systems, which pose a myriad of risks like battery cages, are not being used in production. EggTrack showcases the 24 companies that have clear statements against the use of combination systems within their supply chain. With Compassion in World Farming’s efforts to positively celebrate these companies in EggTrack, I am optimistic that more leading food businesses will update their cage-free statements explicitly prohibiting the use of combi and limited access systems in the coming years.
Apart from company-driven change, we see citizens and their representatives speaking up to help egg-laying hens. In 2021, Nevada, Utah and Arizona passed policies banning caged systems for in-state production, which means that there are now ten states that have passed laws eliminating the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens. Seven of those states also ban the sale of caged eggs, impacting the market even further. With the increasing trend of cage-free systems in the marketplace and in policy, I know that we will one day see a food system without this inhumane farming method.
Despite ongoing supply chain challenges from the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, effects of inflation, and losses due to recent cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), the global cage-free flock continues to expand. We are proud of the many companies that have set cage-free commitments with 2025 deadlines. To speed up the rate of transition, I recommend that companies develop roadmaps to meet their commitments, work with suppliers, and publicly report on annual progress. We at Compassion in World Farming acknowledge there is still a lot of work to be done, and we look forward to developing our partnerships with companies in the coming years.