March 11, 2016 - 6:00 AM
TORONTO - One major burger chain is refusing to join the growing list of restaurants that have promised to serve only cage-free eggs, saying it won't follow the trend unless farmers build safer cage-free living spaces for their hens.
A&W (TSX:AW.UN) said Thursday it will give a $100,000 grant to Farm & Food Care Canada, a coalition of farmers and businesses, to study ways of sourcing eggs from hens housed in improved free-run and free-range systems.
The company wants to buy its eggs from cage-free farms that protect hen and farmer health, as well as refuse to use antibiotics on its brood, said Susan Senecal, A&W's president and chief operating officer. It plans to do so within the next two years.
But there are not enough free-run or free-range farms in Canada to supply A&W's egg demands, as none meet the company's standards for antibiotic use, she said.
Some research shows free-run housing can expose hens to environmental irritants and more aggressive behaviour from their peers.
"What we're hoping to find here is something that really leads the world in terms of the next advance in hen housing," said Senecal.
The North Vancouver, B.C.,-based company anticipates it will be able to begin serving cage- and antibiotic-free eggs within two years.
A&W currently buys eggs from farmers who keep their hens in so-called enriched cages. These are larger than battery cages, where roughly 90 per cent of Canada's egg-laying hens live, and feature perches and scratch pads intended to allow the birds to exhibit more natural behaviours.
Animal rights activists have urged A&W to join the growing corporate shift towards eliminating cages, including the enriched type, from its food supply chain.
Other fast-food chains, like McDonald's and Burger King, along with several other restaurants have promised to phase all cages out of their supply chains up to 10 years from now.
A&W is resisting that movement because it needs to find cage-free options that allow it to maintain its guarantee of humanely sourced, antibiotic-free eggs, said Senecal.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016