Over the next decade, McDonald's plans to make the transition to cage free eggs in the United States and Canada. The burger chain is trying to reinvent itself as a “modern, progressive burger company” according to CEO Steve Easterbrook. Additionally, the company plans to switch to using chickens that have been raised without most antibiotics. The decision shows that McDonald's is making a stronger effort to consider concerns about animal welfare by consumers.
Other leading restaurant chains, such as Chipotle, have been putting pressure on McDonald's and other companies to make such a transition through their own environmental practices.
Battery cages have long been under fire by animal activists. These cages confine hens in spaces which give them virtually no space to move around. The Humane Society of the United States has been pressuring McDonald's to make the switch to cage free eggs for over ten years. The group’s vice-president of farm and animal protection Paul Shapiro says “It makes it clearer than ever that cages just do not have a future in the egg industry.”
Industry regulations have been making it more urgent for restaurants to make the switch to cage free eggs. For example, a recent California law now mandates that laying hens be provided with sufficient room to stretch, turn around, and flap their wings. Subway and Starbucks are also planning to switch to cage free eggs.
The United Egg Producers state that only around 6% of the nation’s egg-laying hens are cage free. However, CEO of the group Chad Gregory says that the figure should rise in the near future. Currently, less than 1% of the eggs used by McDonald's are cage free.
Senior vice president of the North American supply chain at McDonald's Marion Gross says that the company is now working with its current egg suppliers in order to convert housing systems for hens.
Gross believes that the transition will be truly meaningful to customers. “They know how big we are, and the impact we can make on the industry,” Gross said. The change will have a major impact at McDonald's, as the chain plans to begin offering select breakfast items all day in the United States. Whether the changes are enough to stop a rising tide of competitors squeezing the very concept of the burger chain remains to be seen.