General Mills Cracking Under Pressure From Consumers For Cage-Free Eggs

General Mills' products will only use cage-free eggs by 2025.

General Mills is officially switching to cage-free eggs in all U.S. operations by 2025. The move by the Cheerios maker is a reaction to meet growing consumer demand for chicken eggs produced in a cage-free environment as well as the decent treatment of animals.

The Minnesota-based company initially announced the change in July but did not give a specific timeline. After several discussions with dairy suppliers, General Mills has decided to give them 10 years to make the transition.

“We really see this as a long-term goal that will require unparalleled collaboration,” wrote Steve Peterson, director of sustainable sourcing at General Mills.

General Mills eggs will come from cage-free suppliers.

While General Mills’ move to cage-free eggs directly affects dairy suppliers, the new program requires the fair treatment of animals all along its supply chain. Several farms that supply beef and pork have also been requested to make changes, including the strict use of antibiotics.

Fortune reports that the cage-free move by General Mills is part of a larger animal welfare policy implemented by the cereal producer earlier this year. The new plan is based on internationally recognized guidelines called the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare.

These guiding principles include freedom from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to engage in normal patterns of animal behavior.

General Mill isn’t the only company making changes. For years, there has been a growing movement from consumers and animal welfare groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States, demanding food companies make policy changes that provide for better treatment of animals in the supply chain.

In response, several other food companies have updated their animal welfare policies, including a change to only use cage-free eggs in products.

In October, General Mills’ rival, Kellogg Co., announced it will switch to cage-free eggs by 2025. Although the Eggo-maker uses very few eggs in its products as compared to other companies, the move is to encourage better treatment of animals by their suppliers overall.

“Even though we are a grains-based company and use very few animal products in our foods, we understand that we have a role to play in influencing responsible behavior throughout our supply chain,” said Paul Norman, president of Kellogg North America.

Fast-food companies are changing their policies as well.

Jack in the Box and General Mills will use cage-free eggs.

In a press release by burger chain Jack in the Box, they will slowly switch to cage-free eggs in breakfast meals over the next 10 years. The company has since been working with suppliers to meet the timeline.

McDonald’s, which buys about 2 percent of the egg supply, will be using cage-free eggs in 16,000 U.S. and Canadian restaurants by 2025.

Taco Bell announced a very ambitious plan to change its egg supply ahead of any other major company. In a related Inquisitr report, the restaurant will use 100 percent cage-free eggs in all locations by the end of December 2016.

Other food companies steadfastly moving to cage-free include Burger King, Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks.

Matthew Prescott, Senior Food Policy Director at the Humane Society of the United States, says, “Currently, about 90% of all eggs produced in the U.S. come from caged hens, so these policies will indeed cause a major overhaul of American egg production.”

Since its beginnings, the $10 billion egg industry has used a very profitable model of raising hens to lay eggs in small cages about the size of a sheet of paper. Right now, however, they are scrambling to figure out how to overhaul operations to meet cage-free requirements.

“The change is humongous,” said Marcus Rust, CEO of Rose Acre Farms, the nation’s second-largest egg producer. “When it comes to pure perception you’re never going to convince the general public that we shouldn’t treat our chickens the same way they treat their pets.”

Rose Acre Farms is currently building new barns designed to house cage-free chickens. Rust says the new barns cost more to build and require additional resources to operate. Nonetheless, he believes there is still profit to be made since consumers are willing to shell out more money for cage-free eggs.

General Mills already uses cage-free eggs for its production of Haagan-Daz ice cream in Europe.

[Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images]