Big Companies Go Cage-Free

Cage-free egg farming is on the rise, but is our system ready for the switch?

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

The game is changing for large-scale chicken farming, NPR reports. Due to increasing consumer demand for cage-free eggs, companies like Aramark, a food supplier for schools and prisons, and Unilever, which is responsible for Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, are turning to smaller producers.

Today, 90 percent of eggs consumed in the U.S. come from caged chickens. Animal Welfare groups have long been protesting this practice, as multiple birds are often crammed into one small unit called a battery cage.

Chickens not kept in cages exhibit more natural behavior, such as roosting and dust bathing, and retain more feathers. Yet a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture concludes that there is no difference in nutritional content between factory-raised and cage-free eggs.

From the consumer perspective, free-range eggs are more expensive than their caged counterparts, as it costs more for farmers to produce them. More space is needed to house fewer birds, and the chickens themselves are fed a higher-quality feed.

All the same, big name companies are listening to the public’s growing concerns and making promises to go cage-free. The problem is supply. Demand for free-range eggs may be on the rise, but egg suppliers’ hesitance to raise production costs is leaving many companies in the lurch.

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