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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

One of the world's largest food service providers is going to cage-free. The Compass Group plans to start serving only cage-free eggs, and it will begin doing that in the next few months.

MARKETPLACE's Janet Babin is here.

And Janet, first of all, who is the Compass Group, and what kind of food service do they provide?

JANET BABIN: Well, Madeleine, this is a huge company. It has annual worldwide revenues of around 19 billion - eight billion here in the U.S. and - so it's basically a company that serves meals, millions of meals and all kinds of types of meals from corporate and university food to vending machines to levy restaurants based in Chicago.

We're talking about Wolfgang Puck catering, and also Bon Appetit Management Company is part of Compass, with clients like Oberlin College, MIT, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Getty Center, and corporate food service, too, for companies like Target and Nordstrom.

BRAND: So a big, big company. What does this decision mean then to go cage-free?

BABIN: Well, there are around 280 million laying hens that lived in battery cages in the U.S., and these are wired cages and they have less than a sheet of paper to live their entire lives on. And now with this decision, some 200,000 of them will have up to 300 percent more space to move around.

BRAND: So - but it doesn't really mean that they're going to be roaming the range, right? I mean, they're not living the bucolic life.

BABIN: Yeah, it doesn't mean that, you're right. It's likely these hens still won't go outside, and they'll have their beaks cut off. But still, Paul Shapiro with the Humane Society of the United States says Compass should be commended for this decision.

Mr. PAUL SHAPIRO (Humane Society of the United States): At least these cage-free birds are able to engage in more of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, perching. Cage-free does not mean that these animals will no longer suffer, but what it does mean is that they will suffer a lot less.

BABIN: So Madeleine, walking, nesting, perching - that's what they'll be able to do. But this is really becoming a trend. Burger King made the decision in March to only buy eggs from supplier who don't cage birds. Hardee's did the same, so did Carl's Jr. McDonalds is thinking about it. Wendy's is one of the holdouts.

BRAND: So it's a good P.R. move at least. Is it more expensive, though, to raise laying hens in a cage-free environment?

BABIN: Yeah, it usually is more expensive. But Cheryl Queen with Compass Group told me the company's decision isn't going to a cost any more money. It's revenue neutral, and she explained why.

Ms. CHERYL QUEEN (Compass Group): Because of the volume of purchasing power that Compass Group has, we've been able to work with one supplier to be able to supply us with cage-free eggs.

BRAND: And that supplier is Egg Innovations. Also, Compass is going to have a third party verify that the eggs are in fact cage-free. When you go to the supermarket now, you see a lot of different labels, and you don't know what they mean sometimes. But with this Compass decision they're saying we're going to verify that we mean cage-free.

BRAND: Thank you, Janet.

That's Janet Babin of public radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE produced by American Public Media.

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