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Would you pay more for cage-free food?

Burger King is moving to 100% cage-free eggs and pork, which cost more to produce. Does that matter to you?

By Karen Datko Apr 27, 2012 8:59AM

Image: Family eating burgers (© Bananastock/Jupiterimages)Burger King says it's switching to more humanely raised eggs and pork in all of its 7,200-plus U.S. restaurants. This is huge -- "supersized news," it's been said -- in the food business.

 

Specifically, the company said it has "pledged to transition its U.S. supply chain to 100% cage-free eggs by 2017 and only purchase pork from suppliers that can demonstrate documented plans to end their use of gestation crates for breeding pigs -- moves supported by The Humane Society of the United States."

 

How big is this? The Associated Press reports:

The decision by Burger King, which uses hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of millions of pounds of pork annually, could have huge repercussions in the egg and pork supply business as a huge new market has opened for humanely raised food animals. Already 9% of the company's eggs and 20% of its pork are cage-free.

Freeing hens from battery cages and sows from gestation crates will mean higher production costs -- and you can bet we're going to pay for them. Estimates for egg price hikes range from 1 cent per egg to up to 40 cents more per dozen. (Post continues below.)

Nation's Restaurant News added more insight:

Mitch Head, spokesman for the United Egg Producers, a trade body that represents about 88% of egg farmers in the United States, pointed to a study by food and agriculture consulting firm Agralytica (formerly Promar International) in 2009 that estimated that cage-free eggs cost 25% more to produce.

No estimate yet on what the cost of bacon, sausage and ham could be. Meanwhile, the pork industry isn't jumping for joy over Burger King's announcement. Says Pork Magazine

"NPPC respects the rights of companies to make decisions that are in the best interests of their business and customer desires," says Dallas Hockman, vice president of industry relations with the National Pork Producers Council. "But, there has to be discussions within the supply chain about the ability to even meet these types of requests."

Whatever the cost, many seem ready to pay (me included). Anyone who's raised pigs knows how smart they are, and the thought of sows spending most of their lives without enough space to move around is hard to take. Eight states have outlawed gestation crates or are phasing them out.

 

"It's proven that consumers are willing to pay a little bit more for fairness, whether it's to humans or animals," food industry expert Phil Lempert told AP. In fact, Proposition 2, approved by California voters in 2008, will ban such confinement for pigs and chickens in that state by 2015.

 

Are you ready to pay more for food that's raised a bit more humanely? We're all getting more enlightened, it seems, about the stuff we put in our mouths. Pink slime, anyone?

 

And some have commented that animals that live in more natural settings taste better. That's been my experience. The eggs and fryers I get from small, local cage-free producers are much more flavorful than their mass-produced equivalents. 

 

Did you know that other big companies have been switching to cage-free too? AP says:

Wal-Mart and Costco have since transitioned their private-label eggs to 100% cage-free. Unilever, which uses 350 million eggs a year in its Hellmann's mayonnaise brand, is switching to 100% cage-free, and others such as Sonic, Subway, Ruby Tuesday, Kraft Food and ConAgra Foods are incorporating some percentage of cage-free eggs in their products.

Chipotle Mexican Grill famously declared it won't do business with pork suppliers that use crates. Other big chains like McDonald's are encouraging pork producers to go crate-free, and some large producers are working on that.

 

If you don't have the extra money to pay for more humanely raised food, you can make adjustments. Washington Post reader "Tampamom1" wrote: "I'm willing to pay more for meat from humanely treated animals. (Even though, on my budget, that amounts to eating a lot less meat.)"

 

More on MSN Money:

6Comments
Apr 30, 2012 11:37AM
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Marilyn: Humanely raised meat is no joke.  Look into the realities of factory farming and you will be horrified.  The responsible choice is to know where the animal products you're consuming is coming from. (Learn more at www.farmetarian.com)

"Vegetarian fed" chickens means that the diet the farm is providing is vegetarian.  It does not mean that the chickens aren't also foraging for insects.  People who care about animals treated humanely know that we need to also be aware of the feed given to the animals we eat.

While we should be aware that some products are being mislabeled as 'humane' in order to sell more, I would also argue that it is important to not totally dismiss the idea of eating cruelty-free.  Do research on the food you are buying so you know that you are getting the best!

Apr 30, 2012 1:02PM
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What I think people fail to recognize is that meat from factory raised animals is less healthy and that lack of health translates into less nutrition from their meat, meat that doesn't taste as good, and a higher risk of people contracting salmonella, Mad Cow, and e coli by eating those less healthy animals.    I'm a proud midwestern carnivore and love meat but facts are facts. You jam hundreds of animals into a space that would normally house 1/3 of them in a somewhat humane fashion and diseases spread very easily (which is why farmers dose animals with antibiotics so often).  By way of example, we feed cows grain in the US, but cow digestive systems are made to eat grass, so they don't digest the corn fully.  As a result, e coli proliferate in their digestive systems to eat all the poorly digested corn.  This unnatually large amount of e coli then comes out in their manure.  Of course, as the cows are so tightly packed and so much manure is being created, the cows have no choice but to be covered in all of their own manure.  Once the animal is slaughtered, the manure passes from their skin to the meat, then to us. Why?  Because using as little land as possible and delivering cows cheap feed grain is a whole lot cheaper than giving the cows land to forage on.
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Yes I would! Animals that are going to die to feed our carnivorous friends should not be abused  prior to deaths. I have tried to become vegan and the harder I try my body seems to crave meat more. I hate this about myself but it is a reality that I can not deny. Vegans are special people and I believe their bodies just don't require meat protein the way some of us do. I am a nurse and I believe our bodies listen to our cravings. It is a sign the body needs something that we are not getting in our diet.
Apr 30, 2012 4:40PM
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We raised chickens for years in open pens on the ground where they could eat insects, grass, seeds etc.  It was very expensive to raise them but the flavor was night and day to store bought.  Eggs had a better flavor also.   The fertilizer was almost worth the feed cost.   The weasels and racoons put us out of business. 
Apr 30, 2012 10:46AM
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It's a sales gimmick; nothing more. What will they come up with next; giving cows massages so the meat will be more tender because they died relaxed or maybe feeding them a marijuana-hay mix so they won't panic in their final minutes? I saw an add for cage free vegetarian chicken eggs. WTF. Anyone who has ever been on farm knows that if chickens are free roaming, they are not vegetarians. Birds eat worms. It's a simple as that. Anyone who believes that you can let them roam free and stop them from pecking an earthworm out of the ground is stupid. (I'm picturing one of those girls from the movie "White Chicks"). Not wanting to consume products and meats from hormone injected animals or cloned animals, I can clearly understand but most of this stuff is just a costly sales pitch.

Apr 30, 2012 11:37AM
avatar
Marilyn: Humanely raised meat is no joke.  Look into the realities of factory farming and you will be horrified.  The responsible choice is to know where the animal products you're consuming is coming from. (Learn more at www.farmetarian.com)

"Vegetarian fed" chickens means that the diet the farm is providing is vegetarian.  It does not mean that the chickens aren't also foraging for insects.  People who care about animals treated humanely know that we need to also be aware of the feed given to the animals we eat.

While we should be aware that some products are being mislabeled as 'humane' in order to sell more, I would also argue that it is important to not totally dismiss the idea of eating cruelty-free.  Do research on the food you are buying so you know that you are getting the best!

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