Major grocers pledge cage-free eggs by 2025

The grocery arm of the body for Canadian retailers has rolled out a 10-year plan to source the eggs its members sell from layer hens raised in “cage-free environments.”

The grocer members of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), which include Loblaw, Sobeys/Safeway, Metro and Wal-Mart Canada, said Friday they are “voluntarily committing to the objective of purchasing cage-free eggs by the end of 2025.”

However, David Wilkes, senior vice-president for government relations and the grocery division at RCC, said in a release that the grocers’ commitment is “made recognizing the restrictions created by Canada’s supply management system.”

The cage-free timeline, he said, thus “will have to be managed in the context of availability of supply within the domestic market.”

The RCC also noted the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) expects to release a new Canadian code of practice for layer hens later this year.

When released, NFACC’s layer hen code is expected to guide Canada’s egg sector on various aspects of farm management and welfare practices, by way of “recommendations and requirements for housing, care, transportation, processing and other animal husbandry practices,” the RCC said.

The RCC, Wilkes said, “remains firmly committed to the NFACC process and will work with other participants to not only advance our voluntary commitment to move to cage-free environments by the end of 2025, but also by ensuring suppliers adhere to the code’s recommendations.”

Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) last month announced a transition plan to move all Canadian layer hens away from conventional battery cage-style housing into “enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range” by 2036 — “assuming the current market conditions prevail.”

Without mentioning the RCC announcement, the national egg producer group said in a statement Friday it “look(s) forward to working with retailers to ensure high-quality Canadian eggs remain on grocery shelves everywhere, and we will continue to work with our supply chain to do so and to align our approaches as much as possible.”

EFC on Friday also noted its members have long supported and taken part in the NFACC process and brought last month’s industry plan forward for the NFACC review of the egg industry code or practice.

“We believe a code that takes into account what the egg industry analyzed, developed and proposed to be realistic will be stronger, and a tremendous framework on which to make many other enhancements to our industry for years to come,” EFC said.

EFC also said it’s committed to research on hen housing systems as well as consumer preferences, and to make sure decisions on industry practices are “evidence-based.”

Doing so, the egg producer group said, “ensures choice and price stability to shoppers while protecting the entire supply chain from shortages or the production of eggs for which there are no market.”

EFC also reiterated Friday that the various layer hen housing systems in use today “all 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.”

Various non-government animal welfare groups on Friday hailed the RCC’s move, noting RCC grocer members account for 90 per cent of grocery store sales in Canada.

World Animal Protection Canada executive director Josey Kitson said in a separate release that the council’s decision “will have a transformative effect on the way that laying hens are housed in Canada.”

Nathan Runkle, president of the Canadian arm of Mercy for Animals, in another release, called RCC’s pledge “a watershed moment for farmed animals and caring consumers in Canada” and said it marks a “tipping point” for the egg sector.

“Any food company that has not yet adopted a cage-free egg policy is simply out of step with consumer expectations and business trends.”

Major quick-service restaurant chains operating in Canada have made announcements similar to the RCC’s in recent months, varying in the level of housing they expect for layer hens.

A+W said earlier this month it plans to get all its eggs from open-barn suppliers within two years. The owner of Tim Hortons and Burger King said last month it would take the chains’ North American egg supplies cage-free by 2025, and McDonald’s last fall pledged to shift to free-run eggs in the same time period. –– AGCanada.com Network

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