Arcos Dorados, the world’s largest McDonald’s franchisee and the largest operator of fast-food restaurants in Latin America, said in a statement that it will serve exclusively cage-free eggs by 2025, a shift that will impact the welfare of millions of animals.
The new policy, developed in conjunction with Humane Society International, reflects a growing focus by U.S. animal protection groups on securing cage-free commitments internationally. Burger King recently announced a similar pledge for its Latin American supply chain.
Roughly 5 billion egg-laying chickens are raised each year worldwide and most spend their entire lives intensively confined, held in small wire enclosures called battery cages.
Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, refers to caged hens as “the most closely confined, overcrowded and generally miserable animals in America.” In Latin America, where Arcos Dorados operates most of its 2,100 restaurants, conditions for these birds are even worse.
The region’s industrial animal farms still subject egg-laying hens to a practice called “forced molting,” which is illegal in Europe and uncommon in the United States.
Birds are deprived of light and intentionally starved for several days to induce stress, which causes them to shed and regrow their feathers. They temporarily stop laying eggs while molting, providing their reproductive systems time to recuperate, and subsequently, they produce better quality eggs.
Egg-laying chickens in Latin America are also packed about 30 percent more tightly than in U.S. factory farms. A typical hen raised in Mexico or Brazil will live out its one- or two-year existence within the space of 48 square inches.
Arcos Dorados said its new policy is aimed at fulfilling growing global demand for more humanely raised animal products.
Eighty-six percent of meat-eating Americans said it was important to them that farm animals were treated humanely, according to a national HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted last year. Concern for the treatment of farm animals spanned party affiliation, income level, sex and race.
Recent campaigns to end the use of battery cages in the U.S. have been the most successful in the history of farm animal welfare, advocates say. In the last two years alone, every major grocery and fast-food chain in the country has committed to selling only cage-free eggs.
Several animal protection groups are now attempting to replicate that success abroad, and Latin America is a major focus. Mexico and Brazil are the fourth- and fifth-largest egg producing countries in the world, respectively, behind only China, the United States and India.
One group, Animal Equality, last week released the first undercover video from inside a large industrial hen farm in Mexico. The graphic footage shows birds subjected to forced molting and held in cages with other chickens that are dead or dying.
Nico Pitney is a senior editor at The Huffington Post. Tips? Feedback? Email him at nico.pitney [at] huffingtonpost.com, or subscribe for email updates.