When the public's voice for animal welfare is loud enough, game-changers can happen -- communities can act against cruelty, laws can change, and companies can rethink their policies. This week, Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., took such a step with its announcement to stop carrying shell eggs from hens raised in battery cages by 2025. The ASPCA was proud to work with Walmart on this historic decision.
This is an important move because the majority of hens that lay eggs for U.S. consumers -- some 290 million in 2015 -- are confined in such a way that restricts basic, necessary behaviors like spreading their wings, perching, or laying their eggs in nests.
Walmart says it will require all farms supplying shell eggs to its stores to meet at least the United Egg Producers Cage-Free standard, which sets requirements on issues such as space, ammonia levels, and enrichment for animals. These certification standards are checked onsite annually by independent auditors and are available online -- adding an important level of farm accountability and transparency.
While other companies have already committed to eliminating battery cages, Walmart's size and influence on the market make this announcement a true animal welfare milestone.
Nancy Roulston, the ASPCA's Director of Corporate Engagement for Farm Animal Welfare, advised Walmart as it moved toward this decision, stressing the importance of a holistic approach that includes transparency and enrichments that allow hens to engage in natural behaviors. Compassion in World Farming and The Humane Society of the United States were also involved in this effort.
Their critical work and Walmart's action bring us closer to our ultimate goal: the end of battery cages throughout America and a more humane, more transparent farming system. We will continue working with Walmart to help it achieve its commitment to continuous animal welfare improvements across the board.
Most Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty. If you purchase animal products, you can help by demanding they come from verified higher-welfare farming systems. Visit aspca.org/labels to make more humane choices and show food companies that not only is there no market for cruelty, but that you're determined to be part of the process that helps end it for good.
Matthew Bershadker is President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which celebrates its 150th Birthday this month.