In a move that has significant implications for U.S. and Canadian egg producers, McDonald’s is announcing that it will begin phasing out the use of eggs from hens housed in cages.
The company uses some 2 billion shell and liquid eggs annually, a little more than 4 percent of the 43.56 billion eggs produced in the United States last year. With the national introduction last week of plans to sell some breakfast items all day long, the company expects to buy even more eggs. The Egg McMuffin, which uses one egg per sandwich, is one of the company’s most popular menu items.
With less than 10 percent of the nation’s laying hens housed “cage-free,” it could take McDonald’s as long as 10 years to reach its goal of having 100 percent come from hens in what are known as “aviary systems.” Those allow chickens to move freely up and down tiers and among nesting areas inside barns.
Such eggs command a premium price, although retailers have marked them up less sharply recently to mitigate the impact of a deadly avian flu that has killed millions of laying hens this year.
Marion Gross, senior vice president for supply chain management at McDonald’s, said the impact of its decision and similar moves by other major egg users would help bring down the price of cage-free eggs.
“We believe over time that, with our scale, we will be able to mitigate cost impact on our system,” she said.
The timing of McDonald’s announcement may, in fact, be fortunate. Egg producers may convert barns still empty after the avian flu epidemic to cage-free operations. According to the Agriculture Department, 6.4 percent of the nation’s laying hens were cage-free in March, before the avian flu hit, and major producers are switching at least some of their production to cage-free systems.