Foodservice firms that have promised to go cage-free on eggs by 2025 need to start the remaining transition sharpish, says Jemima Jowell.
This summer we’ve witnessed a seismic shift in attitudes towards caged eggs with a deluge of commitments by food businesses to go cage-free in their egg supply chains. One of the latest is from international contract caterer, Compass Group, which last week pledged to go cage-free globally on both its shell and liquid eggs by 2025. It’s a popular deadline. But despite this nine-year time lag, some egg producers have expressed concerns about their ability to achieve the shift in egg production to meet the commitments corporates are making. Are the pledges realistic?
The short answer is, yes, they are. The 2025 deadline is wholly achievable but the remaining transition to cage-free production needs to start now. Producers that still have cages in their systems must actively explore new approaches. Crucially, foodservice companies also need to consider how best to support them – for example by agreeing longer-term contracts that give their suppliers the confidence to invest in new cage-free systems. The public commitments we have seen from food companies are an important first step; the hard work to fulfil these commitments starts now, and must be done in close collaboration with producers and other stakeholders.
Wherever possible, free-range systems, which offer the highest welfare potential compared to solely indoor housing, are strongly recommended. Compassion in World Farming has produced a laying hen booklet that gives clear, practical advice to egg producers on the key features of all higher welfare systems for laying hens.
Foodservice companies can also use it to ensure they are sourcing from genuine cage-free systems. Buyers should be on the lookout for misleading offers – any producer who has simply opened up existing cages and labelled their system a barn (as some industry rumours have hinted might happen) would be, of course, not only scandalously neglectful to the hens but also present huge reputational risk to companies buying the eggs.
Foodservice companies are garnering good reputational value from their public commitments. They now need to make sure that they maintain their credibility by reporting on their progress year-on-year, ideally expressed as the percentage of supply that has transitioned to cage-free. The spotlight is on them, not least the annual Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare. This Benchmark, which is supported by Compassion in World Farming, World Animal Protection and investment firm Coller Capital, ranks a hundred of the world’s largest food companies on the quality of their management and disclosure of farm animal welfare, including an assessment of both their policy commitments and their performance in delivering them.
The shift we are seeing in the egg market is reflective of consumer attitudes. This suggests two things. Firstly, that foodservice companies need to make sure they remove all caged eggs in their supply chains by 2025; this means asking second and third tier suppliers to address egg ingredients, if they haven’t already, to give them a chance to make the necessary changes and commitments too. Secondly, eggs are just the beginning. Cages, crates and stalls have no place in modern farming systems – and companies would be wise to start mapping their journey to higher welfare meat and dairy products too.
Jemima Jowell is head of food business at Compassion in World Farming