Burger King, the country’s number two fast food chain, has announced that it has made an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States to switch to cage-free products by 2017. Specifically, the chain will use eggs from hens not kept in cages and pork products from pigs that are not kept or bred in cages as well.
The decision to serve free-range pork isn’t exactly trailblazing, as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and several other food industry brands have already adapted their policies to include the humane treatment of pigs. But Burger King is officially the first major chain to make such an agreement concerning eggs.
According to industry trade group the United Egg Producers (UEP), only five percent of the US market is devoted to cage-free eggs. While there is no question that uncaged chickens are treated more humanely, it’s less clear whether they are the best solution for food producers.
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Because cage-free hens require more water, acreage and cropland than their caged counterparts, they are more taxing on our environment. Also, the UEP says that uncaged chickens are more susceptible to health problems and shorter lifespans.
From a financial perspective, the UEP says that cage-free eggs can cost a food-service company more than triple the cost of traditional eggs. But the Humane Society insists that the UEP’s figures are skewed and that Burger King’s switch will open the market up for cage-free producers and consumers.
“What this does is send a clear message to these industries that their customers and the public don’t want animals confined for their entire lives in cages,” said Humane Society Food Policy Director Matt Prescott. “They will have to make changes. It doesn’t take a scientist to look at five to eight animals crammed into a cage the size of a file cabinet drawer and say this is wrong.”