In a move that all but assures the future for egg-laying hens will be cage-free, Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, announced on Tuesday it will switch its supply chain to 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2025 for all of its 4,600 U.S. Walmart and 650 Sam's Clubs locations. Walmart accounts for 25 percent of all groceries sold in the U.S.; the company sells an astounding 11 billion eggs per year.
Submitting to pressure from animal rights groups including Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, Walmart joins dozens of other major food companies making the switch. Other companies that have made cage-free egg commitments include McDonald’s, Target, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Unilever, Nestlé, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, and most recently, Kraft Heinz, Kroger, and Albertsons.
“Our customers and associates count on Walmart and Sam’s Club to deliver on affordability and quality, while at the same time offering transparency into how their food is grown and raised,” Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer at Walmart said in a statement. “Our commitment to transition to a cage-free egg supply chain recognizes that expectation and represents another step we are taking to improve transparency for food we sell in our U.S. stores and clubs.”
Walmart says the initiative will “require 100 percent of shell egg suppliers to be certified and fully compliant with United Egg Producers (UEP) Animal Husbandry Guidelines or equivalent standards.” And the move will also “challenge suppliers to use selective breeding practices, innovation and best management practices to improve the health and welfare of laying hens.”
Complying with UEP is significant as the government does not currently regulate the cage-free label; and that means brands and suppliers can call eggs "cage-free" even if they're not. UEP guidelines provide accountability for suppliers and ensure the health of the chickens. Most companies promising cage-free eggs have aligned with the UEP's standards, but not all. And while cage-free does give hens significantly more room than the battery cages being abandoned, it's not a guarantee the animals will ever see the outdoors.
Nonetheless, it's a huge win for animal rights groups, and for the animals. In a blog post on the Humane Society of the United States’ website, Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, applauded Walmart’s decision as a monumental act.
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“The era of confining hens in cages in America’s food system is officially sunsetting,” he wrote.
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Walmart image via Shutterstock