This 2017 photo shows cage-free chickens on a Versova farm in Iowa. The nation's egg producers are in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar shift to cage-free eggs that is dramatically changing the lives of millions of hens in response to new laws and demands from restaurant chains. Photo Credit: Versova via APAnimalsSociety USA
“We Have to Listen to Our Customers” – Hens Are Going Cage-Free
Following years of pressure from animal rights activist groups, egg producers are finally embracing the cage-free hens’ movement in a growing number of American states – starting with California – making the majority of citizens very happy.
“What we producers failed to realize early on was that the people funding all the animal rights activist groups, they were our customers,” says Marcus Rust, the CEO of Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms, America’s second-largest egg producer. “And at the end of the day, we have to listen to our customers.”
Millions of hens will see their lives change — the country has a total of 325 million — as egg producers are adapting their structure and finding new ways to collect eggs without infringing the hen’s freedom. The percentage of free-roaming hens went from 4% in 2010 to 28% in 2020. That proportion is expected to reach 70% in the next four years. California is imposing cage-free housing, as are Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. McDonald’s buying power — the chain buys some 2 billion eggs every year — influenced the movement since it gradually shifted to cage-free itself, following its customers’ demands. Incidentally, a Gallup poll conducted in 2015 revealed that two-thirds of Americans believed that animals deserved protection from harm and exploitation.