Taco Bell is ready to go cage-free by 2016, and McDonald’s lags behind with plans for 2025.
Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, was the last major company to decide on the switch, but it may become the first to actually implement it: They announced in November that 6,000 Taco Bell locations in U.S. will be switching to eggs produced by cage-free chickens by the the end of 2016.
“This is the fastest timeline adopted by any major food company, and it comes as Taco Bell increases its breakfast program nationwide, raising the bar for other major corporations,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, on his blog. McDonald’s, which announced in September that it would go cage-free, is working on a 10-year timeline.
Just over a week ago, The Washington Post called out Yum! Brands, which also owns Pizza Hut and KFC, as “the only major fast food company that refuses to fix how it gets its food.”
“The closest the company has come” to making a change akin to cutting antibiotics or changing other farming practices, wrote Roberto Ferdman, was when Yum! Brands CEO Greg Creed said last year “that he would like for Taco Bell and its sister brands to switch to hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, but that it wasn’t currently possible.
While Taco Bell fans won’t be eating Quesaritos stuffed with antibiotic-free chicken just yet, there will soon be bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit tacos made with cage-free eggs. As for the eggs served at KFC and Pizza Hut, it is unclear whether they will soon be cage-free as well.
The speed of Taco Bell’s proposed change can partly be explained by simply counting the eggs: Taco Bell, according to Reuters, uses about 13 million eggs annually, and breakfast accounts for just 6 percent of its overall sales. McDonald’s, for its part, uses 2 billion eggs annually, and McMuffins and the like represent a full quarter of its profits—a number that’s likely to rise now that the chain is serving breakfast all day long.
With the half-million birds expected to be removed from cages as a result of the switch, the number of cage-free laying hens in the U.S. will be bumped up to about 24 million birds. All told, the U.S. laying-hen flock consists of 275 million chickens.
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