Foodservice giant Sodexo has pledged to switch the sourcing of all of the 39 million shelled eggs that it uses each year to cage-free hens by July 2014.
Cage-free hens do not necessarily have access to outside space, but they are able to walk and spread their wings, and systems are third-party certified to ensure that animals have access to perching and dust-bathing facilities.
"Our decision to source shelled eggs exclusively from hens in a cage-free environment specifically addresses our commitments to buy local, seasonal or sustainably grown or raised products,” said Deborah Hecker, Sodexo’s vice president of sustainability and CSR.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) welcomed the move, which it says will improve the welfare of nearly 150,000 hens each year. HSUS came to an agreement with the United Egg Producers (UEP) in July 2011 to establish a voluntary nationwide standard for cage sizes and enriched housing for egg laying hens. The UEP says it represents egg farmers who own about 95% of egg laying hens in the United States.
"Sodexo's move on procurement of shell eggs from more humane sources reflects a strong commitment to hen welfare," said Josh Balk, director of corporate policy for HSUS.
Battery cages are still the most common form of egg production in the United States, where the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society have agreed to phase in a recommendation for cage size of 124-144 square inches. Currently, the UEP’s recommendation is 67 to 86 square inches per bird, and it says the majority receives 67 square inches – smaller than an A4 sheet of paper – although about 50m birds still have just 48 square inches.
Battery cages have come in for criticism from animal welfare groups, as hens are unable to spread their wings in such confined space.
Other major companies to announce the phasing out of eggs from battery cages include Barilla Pasta, Snyder’s-Lance, Unilever, and Sara Lee.
Sodexo also announced in July its intention to work with pig farmers to phase out gestation stalls from its pork supply chain over the next ten years.