General Mills says it will move toward using only cage-free eggs in its food products as part of its new policy on animal welfare.
The Golden Valley-based food giant – whose brands include Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Jus-Rol – made the pledge of "working toward 100 percent cage free eggs for our U.S. operations," it revealed on Tuesday.
The maker of everything from cake mixes to ice cream, cereals and soups says it may take some time to reach the 100 percent mark because of the current bird flu outbreak, which has taken a major toll on egg and poultry farms across the nation.
"As the industry works to rebuild its supply chain," its animal welfare policy says, "we will work with suppliers to determine a path and reasonable timeline toward this commitment."
The announcement comes as a result of the company working alongside The Humane Society on its animal welfare principles.
In going cage-free it follows in the footsteps of Kellogg, Nestle, Walmart, Starbucks and Dunkin Brands, which have also made such commitments in the past six months, according to The Humane Society's news blog.
The Star Tribune reports this change in approach from some of the country's biggest food firms will "take years" as the egg industry has a "huge investment" in the current system that is dominated by caged eggs.
The newspaper notes the cage-free section of the industry is small but growing, after efforts by animal rights groups against keeping several hens in small, cramped cages that limit their movement.
General Mills wants animals to have 'five freedoms'
General Mills' move to cage-free is in alignment with its plan to follow the "five freedoms" for animals in its supply chain, which gives them freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, discomfort, pain, injury and disease, fear and distress, and the freedom to "engage in normal patterns of animal behavior."
The Humane Society says that on average, a caged laying hen in the United States only gets 67 square inches of cage space – less space than a single sheet of "letter-sized paper."
The confined spaces makes it easier for disease to spread within a flock, and prevents them from natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dustbathing.
Cage-free hens are not free from cruelty, the organization notes, with hens still having part of their beaks removed (to prevent pecking injuries), and they are generally slaughtered at less than two-years-old, as are caged hens.
However, they are able to walk around, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, meaning they have "significantly better lives than those confined in battery cages," the Society says.
For its Häagen-Dazs ice cream products, General Mills already uses free range eggs, which are similar to cage-free eggs except they are given outdoor access.