Raging age of cage-free change

COLUMN LIKE I SEE 'EM


Kevin Niederman

Within 10 years, all eggs purchased by McDonald’s will be from cage-free hens.

Why the switch? McDonald’s is suffering from dwindling sales these last few years. Corporate execs have attributed this fall to data supporting that the youth of America is uncomfortable with the uncertainty surrounding the food they might eat from the restaurant. The transition to cage-free eggs is a large one, and has the potential to ripple across the entire egg industry.

According to The New York Times, McDonald’s purchased about 4 percent of the 44 billion American-produced eggs last year. That’s a little less than 2 billion eggs. Of those 2 billion eggs, less than 1 percent were cage-free eggs.

The statistics stating that McDonald’s purchases 4 percent of all the eggs produced in this country were gathered during a time in which eggs were only prepared and served between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. With the announcement of breakfast sales now going around the clock, the potential number of eggs that McDonald’s might need could double or even triple. With the massive numbers of eggs McDonald’s requires, and with other fast food chains potentially falling in line, the pressure for an egg farmer to shift to cage-free farming is substantial.

Which, to me, isn’t exactly the best outcome.

Cage-free hens is a label that’s really trendy right now. Of course, putting animals in cages where they can’t move is a little messed up, but the industry moved in that direction for a reason. It’s not like the whole industry just began with cruel suburban 11-year-olds who wanted to beat animals with sticks and make a profit.

Initially, hens were all cage-free and stored in buildings where they could move about freely. There were several problems with this. The severe buildup of chicken manure coated the eggs and most of the pen. Chickens fought and killed each other over the severely cramped space, and disease spread easily amongst the birds.

Maybe throwing the hens into cages and cutting off their beaks wasn’t the nicest thing, but the chickens didn’t murder each other, diseases were more successfully contained, and, most importantly to me, the eggs were clean.

Just because we’re letting the chickens out of the cages doesn’t mean we’re treating them more humanely. Cage-free doesn’t mean free range.  There’s no sun, no room and no grass. It’s basically like turning an egg farm from your typical individual-cell prison to “Escape from New York.”

Let’s get one thing straight: McDonald’s does not care about these chickens. They care about falling profits.

Consumers care about the chickens, and McDonald’s wants their money. But if consumers are the ones instigating the change, if they’re the ones with the actual power, then shouldn’t that change be a little more substantial?

If I were locked in a cage and immobilized and then suddenly told, “Hey, we want to let you out of your cage! You’ll be able to stretch and walk around along with 75,000 other people, and the chances of being shanked and cannibalized just went up a few hundred fold,” I’d be inclined to stay in my cage.

Kevin is a junior studying nursing.