April 11, 2016

Mega-retailer Wal-Mart has pledged to sell only eggs laid by cage-free chickens by 2025. The date seems like a long way off, but it's consistent with timelines set by other major retailers, and makes sense when you consider the massive changes to the chicken egg industry infrastructure this requires.

While other businesses like McDonald's, Target, and Costco have also made cage-free egg vows, the Wal-Mart switchover is particularly significant since the retailer accounts for about one-quarter of all grocery sales in America.

But before you get dreamy visions of Colin the chicken laying your farm-fresh egg in utter pastoral bliss, understand the reality of what constitutes "cage-free." First, no cages, obvs. Instead, the hens will have nests and perches, and room to spread their wings. Each hen will have about one square foot of space. Doesn't sound like much, until you consider that battery-cage hens are typically housed in spaces half that size.

A 2015 study estimated that cage-free eggs cost about 15 cents more per dozen to produce, so like most improvements in life, it comes at a cost. Regardless, it's most certainly a step in the right direction.

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