RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We can say this definitively about selling eggs. Consumers prefer cage-free eggs, which is why McDonald's USA says it will gradually move away from the other kind. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: When egg farmers moved their chickens into small cages made of metal wire decades ago, they thought it was progress. Chad Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, says chicken manure didn't pile up on the floor anymore. Chickens weren't walking around in it.
CHAD GREGORY: The eggs are super clean. The birds remain super clean. And the feed, the water, everything in these houses all of a sudden became super, super clean.
CHARLES: Cages became the industry standard. Ninety percent of the country's egg-laying chickens still live in them. But animal welfare advocates have been fighting these cages with some notable successes. California now demands that all egg-laying chickens at least have enough room to stretch their wings and turn around. Farmers can go cage-free. That's where chickens can roam around freely inside a building. Or they can build so-called enriched colony cages that give chickens more room, also nests to lay their eggs. Gregory says that's the one that farmers would prefer.
GREGORY: They would all say enriched colony cages are the best for the environment, for the cost, for animal welfare, for food safety.
CHARLES: But cage-free is easier to sell to consumers?
GREGORY: Yes, yeah.
CHARLES: A growing number of big egg buyers are now demanding cage-free eggs, General Mills, Nestle - and this week, a really big egg customer - McDonald's USA and Canada. Chad Gregory says even farmers are coming around to the idea.
GREGORY: They're finding out those systems - cage-free systems - aren't as scary as they once feared they would be.
CHARLES: There are new ways to remove the manure and collect the eggs. So big egg producers are now hedging their bets, building both enriched cages and cage-free houses. The old-style cages, though, they're on their way out, gradually. Dan Charles, NPR News.
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