A+W ups ante on layer hen housing

Having already pledged to source eggs from hens in enriched housing and raised without use of antibiotics, burger chain A+W now plans to get all its eggs from hens in open housing.

The Vancouver-based income fund said Wednesday that despite having “no open-barn housing options available” today that meet its antibiotic-free requirement, it plans to meet its new goal “within two years.”

“We are investing in innovation to accelerate the pace of change because right now there are no viable cage-free egg options that meet our supply standards regarding the use of antibiotics,” A+W Food Services president Susan Senecal said in a release.

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Cage-free housing “is only being done by a relatively small number of producers in the industry, who cannot fulfill the volume, needs and specifications of A+W,” John Church, an associate professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, said in the company’s release.

A&W’s egg-based menu items include various breakfast sandwiches and English muffins, omelettes, a breakfast wrap and a breakfast platter.

“We need to improve the standards for laying hens overall, particularly when it comes to the health and welfare of the flock, and Canada has an opportunity to be a world leader in this area,” said Church, the B.C. regional innovation chair in cattle industry sustainability.

A+W said its pledged investment includes a $100,000 grant to not-for-profit group Farm and Food Care Canada.

A+W said the money will go to “fund a leadership discussion, potential research and related work with animal welfare scientists, veterinarians, university researchers, non-government organizations, farmers, egg suppliers and food service/restaurant and retail companies.”

But Farm and Food Care Canada, in a separate statement Thursday, emphasized it will not be funding research into finding cage-free housing alternatives for hens, and “does not advocate for positions on issues or for specific companies.”

The organization said it “was approached for this work earlier this week as a third-party co-ordinator to host a session to bring egg industry partners, retail and food service from across Canada, together with the U.S. Center for Food Integrity’s Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply.”

The “principle” of that discussion, the organization said, would be “to broaden it beyond hen welfare to include all issues impacting sustainable eggs including food safety, environment, hen health, worker health and safety and food affordability, and determine areas that the Canadian egg sector felt this funding would be best spent.”

No agreements will be signed for the funding or its terms, the group said, “until after the Farm and Food Care Canada board of directors and egg industry partners have discussed best options.”

“Trade-offs”

Egg Farmers of Canada, meanwhile, said Friday it wouldn’t discuss A+W’s announcement specifically, but issued a statement that Canada’s eggs “are produced in a range of ways, including conventional and enriched housing, aviary, free-run and free-range systems.”

All egg production systems, the egg producer group said, “have trade-offs across a host of sustainability factors including animal health and well-being, environment, food safety, worker health and safety and food affordability.”

EFC noted it announced a “systematic, market-oriented transition” last month, to take place over the next 20 years, away from conventional egg production toward “other methods of production for supplying eggs.”

The egg industry “hopes to discuss with stakeholders and consumers the benefits of enriched housing, which allows hens to exhibit specific behaviours which may include perching, scratching, foraging, dust bathing and nesting,” EFC said.

“The industry looks forward to discussing these important aspects, and the broader transition plan, with any and all stakeholders as this process unfolds.”

Animal welfare groups on Friday hailed A+W’s announcement. Humane Society International/Canada campaign manager Sayara Thurston said the move “sends a clear message to the egg industry that confining chickens in cages simply has no place in our nation’s agricultural future.”

World Animal Protection Canada’s executive director Josey Kitson said A+W’s move marks “the most ambitious timeline we have seen in Canada” for cage-free sourcing.

The pledge, “along with previous announcements from McDonalds and Tim Hortons, provides clear direction to producers that enriched cages are a bad investment,” she said.

WAPC noted EFC’s pledge to phase out battery cages in Canada by 2036, but added EFC’s move would allow producers to choose between enriched cages and cage-free housing systems, and “it is clear that the future of egg production in Canada is cage-free.” — AGCanada.com Network

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