Activists, however, are now asking why McDonald's won't stop buying eggs from any producer that uses battery cages. "The reality is that McDonald's in Europe has already done away with the battery cage system," said Nathan Runkle. "They've shown that it can be done."
Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States says that McDonald's was once a leader in considering animal welfare when buying food for its restaurants, but "today, unfortunately the company is lagging." He said that Mc Donald's, "the biggest egg buyer in the country," is in the midst of a three-year evaluation of housing methods for hens, but has not yet acted.
In a statement to ABC News, McDonald's vice president for sustainability Bob Langert said "McDonald's cares about how our food is sourced and we have a long history of action and commitment to improve the welfare of animals in our supply chain."
Langert said the company is "participating in an unprecedented three-year study that compares traditional, cage-free, and enriched laying hen housing systems on a commercial scale. For our customers, that means we're working with scientists and suppliers to determine the most optimal hen housing method considering impacts on hen health and welfare, food safety, environment and other factors."
Shapiro said he is encouraged, however, that the Humane Society and United Egg Producers, the industry group that represents major egg farms, have come to an agreement about a standard that he says would improve housing for hens.
"For years, the animal welfare community and the egg industry have been at serious battle," said Shapiro. "Now, we've finally found common ground on at least one issue."
The two groups have cooperated on a bill that will be introduced in Congress by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D.-Ore., that would increase the space allotted to each bird, including room for bird behaviors such as nesting, perching and scratching. California and Michigan have already passed state laws banning "barren" battery cages, and the European Union has banned them starting next year.
In a statement, United Egg Producers said it had reached the agreement with the Humane Society "because we both believe that providing hens with more space is scientifically supported and will improve hen welfare." Sparboe is not a member of the United Egg Producers. Shapiro said that Sparboe's opposition to the agreement "is further evidence of just how out of step the company is on this issue."
Rep. Schrader told ABC News that the UEP and HSUS had come to him with "a brokered agreement for a national standard on cage sizes and made a compelling case."
"This represents a landmark shift in thinking," said Rep. Schrader, "and I take my hat off to both of them for putting aside their differences and working together to reach a deal that provides certainty for the farmers while providing improved conditions for the hens."
He also added that "as a veterinarian, the treatment and conditions of the hens highlighted in the ABC News report are disturbing to say the least," but said he didn't think it represented the egg industry as a whole.