General Mills, the food giant that brings you items like Betty Crocker cake mixes, Progresso soups and Pillsbury products, just announced plans to use only eggs from cage-free hens. The Humane Society of the United States says it has been working with a number of companies over the last six months, like Starbucks, Aramark, Dunkin Brands and Walmart to use only eggs from hens not kept in cages.

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General Mills said that they will start to base many of their decisions regarding purchasing animal products on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, which include:

  1. Make sure animals are raised in ways that allow them to engage in natural behaviors, including having sufficient space and socialization with other members of their species.
  2. They are provided more comfortable living conditions.
  3. They are free from painful mutilations.
  4. They are spared mental discomfort or distress.
  5. They should be given ready access to water and feed.

These changes, the Humane Society says, which seem to be grounded in common sense, would “nonetheless herald major improvements over how much of agribusiness currently treats animals.”

Currently, most of the hens in the United States are kept in battery cages. Each hen, on average, has only 67 sq in of space, less than a piece of printer paper, on which to live her entire life — and produce eggs for the masses. Due to this extreme confinement, hens are unable to spread their wings, nest, perch or do anything a hen would normally do.

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Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Konrad Lorenz spoke for the Humane Society saying, “The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act. For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover.”

Cage-free hens, on the other hand, while often still confined, can walk around, spread their wings and find cover when they are ready to lay. Third party certification systems that mandate regulations for cage-free eggs also ensure that hens are able to perch and have a place to take a dust bath — an important part of being a hen.

According to General Mills, the avian flu was also a major factor in switching to cage-free eggs: “We recognize that the current avian flu outbreak has been deeply disruptive to the U.S. egg supply and producers. As the industry works to rebuild its supply chain, we will work with suppliers to determine a path and reasonable timeline toward this commitment.” Caged birds have been hit much harder by the avian flu than those in cage-free facilities, impacting food companies immensely.

The Humane Society is pleased with the new willingness among large companies to refrain from purchasing products from farms that employ cruel animal-raising methods. Warehousing animals, they said, is bad for both the animals and us. Veal and pork producers are eliminating cruel crates, another sign the Humane Society said, that corporations are starting to respond to consumer concerns as well. While the change is happening, it can’t happen too soon for those animals still stuck in inhumane cages and crates.

Via The Humane Society

Images via Flickr/Kristine Paulus and Markus Ritzman