TORONTO — Canadian egg farmers say they'll meet restaurants' growing demand for cage-free eggs even though conventional housing for hens will account for more than half of production for at least eight more years.
Egg Farmers of Canada announced Friday that its members, representing more than 1,000 farms, will supply more than half of their eggs from hens in conventional housing until 2024 and won't shift completely to other types until 2036.
One critic of the currently predominant type of caged housing said Friday that the egg farmers may not be changing quickly enough but an Egg Farmer Canada spokesman said supplies of cage-free eggs will be able to meet demand.
Sayara Thurston, campaign manager for Human Society International's Canadian chapter, said restaurants and other companies "have made clear that the shift ... must happen in four to nine years, not two decades from now."
Promises to go cage-free by 2020 have been made by Cara Foods (Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey's, East Side Mario's and other Canadian chains), Starbucks, Wendy's (for it's Canadian and American restaurants) and Arby's (for its U.S. locations).
McDonald's plans to do the same at its Canadian and American locations by 2025, the same year that Restaurant Brands International (Tim Hortons and Burger King) will do so at its Canadian, U.S., and Mexican locations.
"Most of those timelines will be met," responded Roger Pelissero, first vice-chair of the Egg Farmers of Canada.
These restaurants don't account for the majority of demand for eggs in Canada, he said, adding that a chain like McDonald's represents a demand for about five per cent of the country's egg production.
Pelissero said that makes it likely the restaurants will be able to obtain enough cage-free eggs, as farms gradually shift to alternative housing, without requiring changes to either industry's time lines.
He said the major demand comes from Canadian consumers who buy eggs at grocery stores.
Most retailers still want to offer shoppers a choice between eggs from hens living in enriched cages as well as without cages (free-run or free-range).
Enriched cages house dozens of chickens — rather than about four to eight birds in conventional housing — and provide space and amenities such as like perches, for the animals to exhibit natural behaviours.
The farmer organization, as well as some researchers, believe enriched cages offer animal welfare and farmer health benefits.
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