At Thursday’s meeting of McDonald’s shareholders, Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign, urged the fast food chain to decrease its use of eggs from caged hens.
Most competitors, including Burger King, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr. and Sonic, have gone cage-free, but egg products sold by U.S. McDonald’s restaurants come from hens confined to battery cages—enclosures so small that birds cannot spread their wings or move freely.
In contrast, cage-free hens have 200% to 300% more space per bird, the Humane Society notes.
McDonald’s stores in the UK have already gone the cage-free route, and franchises throughout the European Union will follow suit this year.
To jumpstart a transition in the United States, the Humane Society specifically proposed that the chain, with 13,000+ American locations, commit to procuring 5% of its eggs from cage-free suppliers by next January. This meant Ronald McDonald could continue to buy 95% of his eggs from regular suppliers.
But the board urged shareholders to vote against the resolution, arguing it “would not enhance our existing policies and practices regarding the welfare of egg-laying hens and is not in the best interests of shareholders.” (Translation: McD’s makes less money, as a cage-free egg costs about 14 cents more, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)
The board added: “As we have examined this issue over the years, we have determined that there is no agreement in the global scientific community about how to balance the advantages and disadvantages of laying-hen housing systems.”
Not so fast.
Numerous studies indicate cage-free hens contribute to a safer food supply, and reputable independent research organizations like the Pew Commission have long urged agribusiness to phase out inhumane production practices.
“McDonald’s could reduce the suffering of the hens in its supply chain by starting to phase in cage-free eggs in the U.S.,” Shapiro says. “Consumer trends, legislative activities, McDonald’s competitors and even many McDonald’s operations outside the U.S. all favor cage-free egg production.”