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Target shifting to cage-free eggs in stores by 2025

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Target is the latest in a growing line of major retailers, restaurants and food companies to move towards cage-free eggs.

The Minneapolis-based retail giant announced on Twitter Tuesday morning it is committed to working toward a "100 percent cage-free shell egg assortment by 2025."

In doing so, it joins other major companies, including Minnesota-based General Mills, ConAgra, McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Nestle and Costco, in pledging to gradually phase out caged eggs in favor of cage-free varieties.

"Target is committed to the humane treatment of animals, and we believe they should be raised in clean, safe environments free from cruelty, abuse or neglect," it says on its website.

"In January 2016, we announced that we will work with our suppliers to increase our offerings of cage-free shell eggs nationwide, working toward a 100 percent cage-free shell egg assortment by 2025, based on available supply."

Earlier this month, NPR wrote supermarkets like Target, Walmart and Safeway have been notably absent from the growing movement away from caged eggs, though it predicted it would only be "a matter of time" as the country's largest egg producers start eliminating cages – where 90 percent of America's eggs currently come from.

Cage-free, not 'cruelty-free?'

On his blog Wednesday, Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, praised Target for its move, saying its the latest sign "enormously consequential shift in food and agriculture" away from battery caged hens.

Even though he admits cage-free eggs are not necessarily "cruelty-free," he does list what he sees as the benefits of hens being on cage-free farms compared to caged.

"Cage-free hens, even in indoor barns, have at least double the amount of space-per-bird as caged hens, and often much more space than that," he said. "In addition, they have the ability to walk, spread their wings, perch, lay their eggs in a nesting area, and more."

The Humane Society says battery-caged hens are only afforded 67-square inches of cage space to live their life, not even enough to spread their wings. Cage-free on the other hand are often kept in large barns in their thousands and though aren't generally allowed to go outside, they are at least able to walk, spread their wings and lay eggs in nests.

There are some in the egg industry who are skeptical over the claims made that cage-free eggs are "more humane."

The National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF) is a coalition representing thousands of egg farmers nationwide who say the majority of caged systems produce "safe, affordable and wholesome eggs."

It released a statement in November opposing the "false premise in the recent food company announcements that cage-free eggs are more humane and better quality of eggs."

It argues that cage-free conditions can lead to additional stress on chickens as it establishes a social hierarchy, or a "pecking order," among them, which it contends can lead to an increase in pecking-related hen deaths.

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