All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice Which came first, the humanely raised chicken or the cage-free egg?

Which came first, the humanely raised chicken or the cage-free egg?

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill made a big splash when it began sourcing humanely raised pork from Niman Ranch several years ago, the first step in its “Food With Integrity” philosophy that grew to include humanely raised chicken and beef, and organic beans and produce when possible.

A growing number of restaurant chains have since followed that lead. They aren’t waiting for legislation to set the standards for the eggs and pork they’ll buy — instead, chains aim to influence their suppliers to switch to more humane standards by showing that there’s a demand for cage-free eggs and pork raised without the use of gestation crates. In recent months, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Denny’s have all committed to work with suppliers to end the use of gestation crates.

The supplier side is key — Denny’s can’t serve breakfast without plenty of bacon and eggs on hand, which means it’ll likely take a while for every location to be fully stocked with cage-free pork products and eggs. But as with most things, if the demand is there, the supply eventually follows.

Egg farmers in California lobbied hard against Proposition 2, a 2008 ballot measure that passed by a wide margin, which gives egg producers until 2015 to convert to cage-free operations. Producers argued that the cost to retrofit their operations and change the way they do business would be prohibitive. Presented with overwhelming evidence that voters wanted them to make changes, some producers have gotten proactive and are working with the Humane Society of the United States to lobby for national standards, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Like a growing number of restaurant chains, suppliers are changing the way they do business to meet customer demand, they say.

“When we lost, we saw that California voters were asking for something different. We listened to what that vote said and tried to find a solution,” said Jill Benson, co-owner of JS West farm, which bankrolled the opposition to Prop. 2 and has since spent more than $7 million to build two barns that give egg-laying chickens more room to move around.

Pork producers are facing similar pressure; Prop. 2 requires them to transition away from gestation crates, which are used to isolate pregnant sows. Not everyone agrees with that provision. The American Veterinary Medical Association says crates used properly can be humane, The Washington Post reported. But Prop. 2 didn’t pass because the scientific community or agriculture industry rallied around it — it passed because the general population wants its food to come from humanely raised sources, and eight states have since passed similar measures.

Do your customers care about cage-free? If so, are you finding supply to meet the demand? Tell us in the comments.