Some major Canadian grocers have committed to selling 100 per cent cage-free eggs in their stores by the end of 2025.
The Retail Council of Canada announced Friday that grocery members Loblaw, Metro, Sobeys and Walmart have voluntarily committed to moving toward purchasing only cage-free eggs for distribution over the next decade.
The council says it’s “a step towards improving animal welfare,” and its “commitment to providing Canadians with responsibly sourced food.”
Animal advocates paint a grim picture of living conditions for hens in conventional farming.
“There are often thousands of hens that are crammed inside of cages that are so small that they can’t walk, they can’t spread their wings, they can’t even lie down comfortably. Birds often get trapped in the wire cage that is under the feed trough, they are trampled by their cage-mates, they are often unable to reach food or water,” says Krista Hiddema, managing director at Mercy for Animals.
“It is also not uncommon for dead or rotted hens that are decomposed to be left in the cages with hens that are still laying eggs for human consumption.”
The hens are often found with serious health afflictions with little to no access to veterinary care, Hiddema says.
The European Union and the United Kingdom have both banned caging systems for hens.
Mercy for Animals wants the National Farm Animal Care Council to ban cages for hens across Canada and commend the grocers for making the move to cage-free eggs.
“We applaud the grocers for making this really, really important commitment.”
The grocers’ move, along with a the possibility of an outright ban on caged eggs, would mean a total overhaul of Canada’s egg producers’ facilities.
In a statement Friday, the Egg Farmers of Canada, representing more than 1,000 egg farms, says it is committed to staying in pace with consumer preferences and demand, while sticking to “evidence-based decision-making when it comes to industry practices.”
The organization says it is researching the benefits of enriched housing for hens, which allows the birds more movement and natural behaviours such as scratching and perching.
“The industry looks forward to discussing these important aspects, and the broader transition plan, with its supply chain and stakeholders as this process unfolds.”
Know your egg terminology
Some believe eggs from hens that are not confined to a small cage taste better and studies suggest they are even better for you. However, consumers should keep in mind that cage-free, free-range and pasture-raised eggs are not one and the same.
Cage-free eggs, also called free run, indicate that the hens are free to roam an open space such as a barn and are not confined to one tiny cage; so while cage-free is better than being trapped in a box, the hens might still never see the light of day.
Free range indicates the hens have some sort of access to the outdoors; that could mean even a small screened-in area or a single door out of a giant living space, for example. This is weather dependent and in Canada access to the outdoors is generally restricted in the winter.
Pasture-raised indicates the hens truly roam the land for at least part of the day, with a warm place to sleep at night.
While it is the consumer’s choice, cost for ethical eggs can be prohibitive; cage-free, free-range and pasture-raised eggs can be double or triple the price of conventionally farmed eggs.