Even in the face of supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, companies and producers continue to make progress on their commitments to source eggs from cage-free hens, according to the recently released fifth annual EggTrack report released by Compassion in World Farming, and the second to look at the progress of companies globally.
According to the 2021 report, 156 of 219 (71%) tracked companies are reporting progress against their cage-free commitments—up from 63% in 2020. Of the 47 companies with global commitments, 26 (55%) reported progress against these commitments, and since last year, an additional 12 companies have expanded their commitments to cover their entire global egg supply.
EggTrack this year shows how legislation is finally catching up with the industry to move to cage-free production, particularly in Europe where the landmark decision by the European Commission to phase out cages for all farm animals across the continent by 2027 was taken in June. This historic decision was the result of the End the Cage Age campaign ECI (European Citizens Initiative), spearheaded by Compassion in coalition with 170 NGOs, which gained 1.4m signatures from EU citizens, and support from 11 leading European companies including Unilever, Barilla Group, Mondelēz International, Jamie Oliver Group and Nestlé.
An increasing number of producers are getting on board as confidence in the ongoing demand for cage-free eggs grows. For example, the largest Italian and leading egg producer in Europe, Eurovo Group has now committed not only to phase out cages for laying hens across its Italian owned farms, but to phase out combination systems too.
EggTrack highlights the risks of ‘combination’ and ‘limited access’ systems, which are marketed as ‘cage-free’ but have doors (and internal partitions) which can be easily closed – allowing a producer to switch back to cage production. These systems have been suppressed in the UK – where over 90% of producers subscribe to the British Lion scheme which prohibits the use of combi systems. And across Europe, more and more leading companies are recognising the need to eliminate combi systems such as Eurovo, and Barilla that only has 8% combi systems left to convert. However, there is still some way to go in the US and elsewhere in the world to educate producers against the use of these misleading highly intensive systems that effectively ensure the continuation of caged egg production.
While momentum for cage-free egg production is growing in key markets like Europe and the US there are also signs of positive change in South America and Asia. Global companies such as Subway, Burger King, Sodexo, Compass Group, Nestlé, Accor Hotels, Metro AG and Marriott International have made cage-free pledges that cover Asia, while in South America, the region’s largest egg producer, Mantiqueira, with approximately 10.5 million laying hens, committed at the end of 2020 to halt the construction of any new caged facilities.
In contrast, however, there is an alarming rise in caged production in some emerging markets like India, Indonesia, and South Africa. Clearly there is a need to ensure that the demise of the cage in some regions is not overshadowed by a rise in caged production in others.
Similarly, while progress on cage-fee shell eggs is evident, there is still substantial room for improvement when it comes to the ‘hidden’ ingredient egg supply. There has been some movement, for example, in the UK the big four retailers, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons all now have cage-free ingredient egg commitments, as do many other retailers and food service companies. However, manufacturers are lagging with leading companies such as Bakkavor and Dawn Foods both without any public cage-free egg commitments, although Greencore just recently announced its commitment to sourcing 100% cage-free eggs by 2025. This must become a key area of focus if true cage-free egg production is to be achieved.
Dr Tracey Jones, Global Director of Food Business, Compassion in World Farming, said: “This year’s EggTrack has many positive messages which suggests the demise of the cage is inevitable. Despite the global pandemic continuing to deliver uncertainty and obstacles for the entire food sector, many companies have persisted in their efforts to go cage-free.
“The landmark decision by the European Commission to phase out cages for all farm animals across the continent by 2027 has set the tone for cage-free egg production across the globe and we are already witnessing a rise in global commitments as corporate cage-free sign-ups ripple out to other regions.
“Although cage-free production is rapidly becoming the baseline standard for shell eggs in Europe, there is still work to do in other parts of the supply chain. All companies must now tackle head-on the issue of ingredient eggs, while those in emerging markets should be encouraged to move to cage-free production and reject combination systems which do not offer the same welfare benefits.
“The various commitment deadlines are looming, and the race is on for all companies, especially those with global footprints, to adopt cage-free systems now to ensure the future success of their businesses.”