Publix Super Markets has announced its shift to a cage-free egg policy for all of its stores by 2026, becoming the last of the nation’s major supermarket chains to make the commitment.
“We take concerns about animal welfare seriously, and have been diligently working with our egg suppliers, industry leaders, governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations to better understand the timing of converting our shell egg supply to completely cage-free, while meeting customer demand, remaining affordable, and maintaining animal health and safety,” Maria Brous, director of media and community relations at Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, told Progressive Grocer. “If the industry moves to cage-free prior to 2026, Publix, and our customers, will benefit from that date as well.”
The 13th largest grocery chain in the U.S., Publix has more than 1,100 locations throughout Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina. It was the target of recent campaigns by animal rights organizations to enforce a cage-free egg policy.
“We appreciate that Publix will stop selling eggs from caged chickens,” said Josh Balk, senior food policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States. “The future is now more certain than ever that the egg industry’s cage confinement of chickens must come to an end."
Publix now joins the ranks of major U.S. supermarket chains including Kroger, Safeway, Costco, Walmart, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which have all made cage-free commitments in recent years.
“Publix has taken a significant step forward in improving the lives of farmed animals,” said Nathan Runkle, president of the California-based animal welfare organization Mercy For Animals. “The company’s cage-free egg commitment will reduce the suffering of countless hens and inspire other grocers to implement similar meaningful animal welfare policies.”
While major suppliers are moving to cage-free systems for raising egg-laying hens, the USDA does not regulate the term like it does for the certified organic label. Cage-free does not mean the animals are regularly allowed access to the outdoors, and many of the birds still experience painful industry standard procedures like beak cutting, which is done without the use of anesthetics.
But it is a step toward a more ethical supply chain, and for consumers, it can be a wake-up call to how their eggs are procured. It's also a sign of major changes in the livestock industry. Perdue recently announced plans to employ controlled atmosphere killing methods for its chickens in efforts to decrease the animals' suffering.
The organic watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute recently re-released its egg-buying scorecard that ranks the ethical practices (among other factors) of the nation’s organic egg producers.
Runkle called on the remaining holdout supermarket distributors and stores, like the Hy-Vee supermarket chain, to follow in Publix’s footsteps. “With Publix’s announcement, it’s never been clearer that the days are numbered for companies that sell eggs from hens packed into cages so small the birds can’t walk or even fully spread their wings,” said Runkle. “Any food company that has not yet adopted a cage-free egg policy is simply out of step with consumer expectations and business trends.”
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Eggs image via Shutterstock