Building on a shift by food brands over the past year to more natural ingredients and increased concern for animal welfare, one of the world's largest food companies announced today that all the eggs in products it sells in the United States will be cage-free by 2020.
Swiss giant Nestlé, producer of consumables ranging from baby food to candy bars to bottled water, said in a press release that the new policy would apply to products including Häagen-Dazs, Dreyer's, and Edy's ice creams, Nestlé Toll House cookie dough, Buitoni pasta, Stouffer's breakfast foods, and Lean Cuisine. The company uses 20 million pounds of eggs annually.
Matt Rice, director of investigations with Mercy for Animals, which worked with Nestlé on establishing the policy, told TakePart that the company originally wanted to apply the policy to all the hens it sources from around the world. "But they were running into trouble with the global supply chain, which is more complicated," he said. "They're working on a deadline" to go cage-free globally, including in China, Rice added.
Costco, Kellogg's, Starbucks, and General Mills have previously announced plans to supply cage-free eggs. But, as TakePart reported in July, these sometimes amount to hazy promises without a timetable. General Mills, for instance, said in July it was "working toward" going 100-percent cage-free. The Nestlé announcement, by committing to ending the use of battery cages by 2020, appears to go significantly farther. But there has been backtracking, too: Although Costco said in 2007 it was going cage-free, the Humane Society of the U.S. found cruel and unsanitary conditions at one of its suppliers just this year.
A mere 3.2 percent of the 296 million egg-laying hens in the U.S. are cage-free, according to United Egg Producers, a leading industry group. It's not clear how many hens supply the 20 million pounds of eggs used in Nestlé's products sold in the U.S., or whether all those hens are in the U.S.
Nestlé established a Commitment on Farm Animal Welfare in 2012. In 2013, Rice's organization produced a video purportedly from one of the company's dairy suppliers in Wisconsin showing cruelty to cows.
In 2008, California voters outlawed battery cages, with Michigan soon following suit. They are also illegal in the European Union.