18 Sep 2014

McDonald's urged to go free-range

3:25 pm on 18 September 2014

A New Zealand animal rights group is calling on McDonalds to roll out a trial of free-range eggs nationwide after the company's decision not to use eggs from caged hens in Australia.

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McDonalds has announced that it will only use cage-free eggs in its Australian restaurants from 2017, as part of a broader animal welfare initiative.

The Victorian Farmers Federation has demanded that egg producers not be expected to absorb the increased costs of producing cage-free eggs. But a McDonald's spokesperson has confirmed that the chain would be absorbing the costs.

The director of SAFE in New Zealand, Hans Kriek, says people have to be prepared to pay more for free-range eggs and the price issue is always going to be a stumbling block.

"If the company absorbs the increase in price - and there's no mistaking there will be an increase in price - then obviously that would be a good thing and could mean the process could happen quicker," he said.

"But on the other hand, when people buy these products, they must realise that they come with a price. So if we want to farm animals in a more humane way the public really should be prepared to pay a little bit more for it. And when you look at the real figures, it's really not a lot more money that it would cost extra for consumers.

"But if McDonald's is prepared to absorb the increase then, clearly, the whole process can go a lot quicker than if you're relying on consumers to catch up. It is a big deal when the big corporations start to listen and it's a sign of the times, really."

Mr Kriek said the public is becoming increasingly concerned about factory farming, including pigs kept in crates and battery hens in cages.

"People don't like it anymore, and businesses who do not respond to that are going to lose out. So I'm sure that most of the businesses that are switching to free-range aren't doing it for ethical reasons; they do it because it makes commercial sense, they know that consumers don't like the cruelty to animals any more and if they don't respond they will lose out in the end.

"It's a good development, but we do believe it should go quicker than what it is going at the moment."

Hans Kriek said SAFE has been talking to McDonald's in New Zealand and the fast-food chain has been trialling free-range eggs in Christchurch and Dunedin, and it should be rolled out nationwide.

Mr Kriek said he understands it there are some issues because there are not enough free-range eggs being produced in New Zealand, but McDonald's should be actively encouraging farmers to make the switch.

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