There’s been a spate of recent announcements by US food companies committing to go cage-free on their egg supply. It signals the beginning of the end for keeping hens in cages, and it shows with wonderful clarity that there is no place for cages in 21st century humane farming systems.
We agree – and not just for hens. Compassion’s End the Cage Age campaign highlights the unnecessary cruelty of caged farming systems, and our Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards recognise the commitments of companies working to rid them from their supply chains.
It goes without saying that at Compassion we’ve been celebrating the ripple effect that’s followed since McDonald’s announcement back in September 2015 that they’re going cage-free on their egg supply within 10 years.
But that celebration it also tempered with caution; sometimes it can be all too easy for companies who’ve garnered significant public praise from an announcement to fade quietly into the background and continue with business as usual. We're hopeful this won’t happen in the US. It’s our job as an NGO to hold companies to account – and we’re not the only ones on the case.
The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare ranks companies on their management and reporting on farm animal welfare, based on publicly available information. Cage-free (or other) commitments alone don’t guarantee a good ranking.
The Benchmark also looks at the governance and management systems in place to ensure commitments are embedded at the heart of corporate practice, asking questions such as: Who is responsible for managing farm animal welfare? Are employees and suppliers supported with training? And, crucially, is a company reporting on progress? It can take a long time to shift a large supply chain, but we should expect companies to report on their progress, even if it’s not at the rate they would like.
IKEA, for example, reports that 33% of their global whole egg supply is now free range. Barilla, an Italian manufacturer who recently reached Tier 3 in the Benchmark, discloses that 82% of their egg supply chain is now cage-free.
So what’s needed to ensure that cages for hens really are confined to the history books? First, we need to ensure that an effective cage-free supply develops sufficiently. That means suppliers – supported by long-term relationships with their customers – invest in good cage-free systems for better welfare.
Second, we need consumers to continue to support companies in this move – and voting with their wallet for those companies effecting real change.
And third, we need companies to stick to their promises – even when the going gets tough. At Compassion we take a partnership approach to change, and are committed to working with companies to ensure they meet – and preferably beat – their targets.
The hard work starts now, and we’re raring to go.