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May 21, 2009

HSUS Response to McDonald's Announcement about Study of Laying Hen Welfare

The Humane Society of the United States

In the United States, McDonald's only uses eggs from hens confined in battery cages — barren enclosures so tiny, the birds can barely move their entire lives. McDonald's closest competitor, Burger King, started using cage-free eggs two years ago. Other fast-food chains, including Quiznos, Denny's, Hardee's and Carl's Jr., also use cage-free eggs in their U.S. operations.

Says Paul Shapiro, senior director of The Humane Society of the United States' factory farming campaign, "There is already an abundance of science demonstrating that battery cage confinement of laying hens is detrimental to animal welfare, and McDonald's shouldn't use another long-term study as an excuse to delay implementing the same modest reforms so many of its competitors have already adopted."

The HSUS encourages McDonald's shareholders to vote in favor of the organization's resolution asking the company to transition toward cage-free egg usage in the United States.

In contrast to its U.S. policy, McDonald's only uses cage-free eggs in the United Kingdom and will only use cage-free whole eggs in the European Union by 2010 — a fact that the company has publicly touted. Keith Kenny, senior director, McDonald's-Europe Supply Chain, stated,

"We are very pleased to be recognised by Compassion in World Farming for the work we are continuing to do throughout the EU to phase out the use of eggs laid by caged birds from our menus. Our customers are increasingly interested in animal welfare and sustainability. We also believe this is the right thing to do. This is the latest step in McDonald's evolution from being a fast food company to a company that serves good food, fast. Eradicating the use of 'caged' whole eggs from our supply chain throughout the EU is a complex challenge, but we are confident of achieving this before the end of 2010."

The most exhaustive analysis of laying hen welfare ever conducted, the LayWel study, concluded that conventional cages — where all McDonald's eggs in the United States come from — cannot provide satisfactory welfare for the birds. As well, a 2.5 year prestigious commission on the topic funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health unanimously concluded that battery cages should be phased out in favor of cage-free systems. A comprehensive review of the literature on the topic also concluded that the retail industry should move away from battery cage confinement.

In a landslide November vote, Californians approved the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act — a new law making it a criminal offense (with a phase-out period) to confine hens in battery cages, pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates. California is the top agricultural state, McDonald's birthplace and home to hundreds of McDonald's locations.

McDonald's should stop lagging behind its domestic competitors and its own policies in Europe and start using cage-free eggs in the United States.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — on the web at humanesociety.org. 

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