While many restaurants are scrambling to attract customers by claiming their products are "natural" or "healthy," the world's largest distributor of food has quietly decided to revolutionize the way it sources eggs.
Sysco Corporation recently pledged to use 100% cage-free eggs in its supply chain within the next 10 years, Ecowatch reported.
Sysco supplies food to thousands of businesses.
The company is much bigger than any one restaurant or fast food chain, Ecowatch noted. Sysco supplies food products to roughly 425,000 restaurants, hotels, healthcare and educational facilities, and other hospitality businesses across the U.S. It had $48.7 billion in sales in 2015.
Sysco has $10 billion more in sales than McDonald's — another company that recently committed to going cage-free within the next decade. The New York Times reported that Mickey D's uses roughly two billion shell and liquid eggs per year.
It's unclear how many eggs will be influenced by Sysco's cage-free pledge. The company's dairy products represented 11% of revenue in 2014, Reuters reported.
The food supplier committed to going cage-free after conversations with The Humane League, an international animal protection nonprofit. The Humane League previously convinced other foodservice companies like Walmart to transition to cage-free eggs by 2025, and convinced the United Egg Producers to do away with culling baby male chicks by 2020.
Cage-free eggs means marginally better treatment for chickens.
Egg producers give laying hens different degrees of freedom, and "cage-free" means that chickens are uncaged and allowed to walk, nest, and engage in other natural behaviors, according to the Humane Society.
But note: The U.S. government does not set requirements for "cage-free" or "pasture-raised" eggs, unlike the requirements it sets for the "organic" label. The Humane Society pointed out that cage-free does not typically mean that laying hens have outdoor access.
Cage-free hens might not see the light of day, but they get more space than caged hens, who might only get 67 square inches of cage space, the Humane Society stated. That's less than a letter-sized piece of paper.
While cage-free doesn't necessarily mean chickens live a cruelty-free life, it is a more realistic first step for giant corporations like Sysco, David Coman-Hidy, executive director for The Humane League, told EcoWatch.
"We're focused on what could reduce the most suffering," he said.
The cage-free choice is far-reaching.
"It's going to impact the entire country," Coman-Hidy said. He explained that the move will make other companies cage-free by default, even if they have not made the decision to do so.
Sysco's influence is extensive. The food supplier is behind everything from hot dogs at Yankee Stadium to sirloin steaks at Applebee's to a cheeseburger served at the University of Iowa Hospital, Slate noted.
Yup, the food behemoth touches a whole lot of stuff Americans put in their mouths, and soon enough that food will be a bit more humane.