Of all the basic qualities that keep any business — and perhaps even our entire free market — successful, the abilities to keep searching for better solutions and smarter ways of doing things are paramount. That’s why it’s highly unlikely you’ll see a new iVCR at the Apple store any time soon. Yet that sort of archaic thinking is exactly what the Canadian egg industry is debating as it sets new standards for how laying hens are treated nationwide.
Right now, the majority of Canadian egg-laying hens are confined in cages that deny them almost every basic need, including the chance to even walk around or fully stretch their wings. It’s mind-boggling that these archaic cages are still used almost two decades into the 21st century, when innovation has transformed most industries several times over in recent years alone. Fortunately, the food industry is finally realizing that “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t a good reason to keep doing something.
Luckily, the current opportunity to do better for birds also means doing better for producers. Just this week, Canada’s largest and most recognisable restaurant chain, Tim Hortons, announced it will eliminate eggs from hens confined in cages from its supply chain–joining McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Starbucks and many others that have announced similar policies in recent months.
The egg industry itself has acknowledged that moving to cage-free housing presents opportunities. When McDonald’s announced its decision to end its use of eggs from caged hens by 2025, the president of one of Canada’s largest egg producers, Burnbrae Farms, said a shift to cage-free was both feasible and exciting. “Ten years…[is] a sufficient amount of time to make that transition happen,” she said. “Clearly consumers have spoken and…we’re just really excited to be part of this and help make all of this happen.”
Indeed. On this, and other ethical sourcing issues, consumers in recent years have found their voice like never before. Now, Canadians are shopping not only for products that come at a value, but that also align with their values. Locking animals into tiny cages to produce our food isn’t something that we as a society agree with, and it is high time to move away from such archaic, cruel systems.
Civil society can do better than keeping birds crammed wing to wing in confinement that causes them such intense physical and psychological suffering. Cage-free barns are a far cry from hen paradise, but they allow hens a basic level of welfare that should never be denied to any animal in our care. Tim Hortons, McDonald’s and so many others have heard their customers’ wishes and have responded as any sensible business must: by changing with the times, by innovating. Prudent egg producers will now do the same and move to cage-free systems. At the end of the day, it’s not only the right thing to do – it’s good for business.