It’s no news that the cost of food is outrageous. Grocery shopping is straining many Michigan families’ budgets as prices continue to soar, including those in the egg aisle. What Michiganders may not realize, however, is that inflation alone isn’t responsible for ballooning egg prices. The record spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is largely to blame.
The ongoing spread of HPAI has decimated the egg supply and brought the industry to its knees. More than 50 million birds are dead, the vast majority of whom were intentionally killed en masse in an attempt to stem further spread of the disease. With an HPAI vaccine seemingly years away, the current outbreak is already the deadliest in recent history and shows no signs of ending.
Aside from HPAI concerns, Americans have another reason to consider avoiding the egg aisle. Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket, has undermined consumer trust by quietly backtracking on one of its longest-standing promises to its customers: to stop selling eggs from chickens confined in tiny wire cages.
In 2016, as consumers became increasingly aware that hens used in the egg industry are subjected to extreme confinement in “battery” cages—with floor space per bird roughly the size of a piece of printer paper—hundreds of companies promised to ban this cruel practice. Kroger was one of several large retailers to publicly commit to sourcing exclusively cage-free eggs by 2025. Many more companies around the globe followed suit, and several states passed cage-free legislation. In 2019, Michigan became the fifth state to enact a cage-free law, which requires all eggs produced and sold in the state to be cage-free by December 31, 2024.
After receiving praise and recognition for years from consumers, media outlets, animal welfare advocates, and other stakeholders, last year Kroger abruptly backtracked on its commitment. The grocer now intends to source only 70 percent cage-free eggs by 2030, with no solid commitment to eliminating cage confinement for hens entirely. Effectively, Kroger’s policy change suggests that the company may never fully eliminate cages from its egg supply chain.
This course reversal is out of line with not only consumer expectations about how animals should be treated but commitments to animal welfare from Kroger’s peers. Numerous other retailers, including Michigan’s Meijer, stand by their 2025 cage-free commitments. And unlike Kroger, retailers such as Target and Costco are making significant progress toward their cage-free goals. While Kroger is at only 27 percent cage-free, Costco is at 97 percent cage-free for its shell eggs, and Target is at 57 and 100 percent for shell and liquid eggs, respectively.
Kroger’s failure to uphold its commitment is even more troublesome in light of its intention to acquire the second-largest supermarket chain in the country, Albertsons. The consolidated companies would provide groceries to 85 million American households at more than 5,000 stores. Should the acquisition succeed, Kroger’s increased market share and influence could result in poorer animal welfare standards for an even greater number of laying hens. Consumers, labor unions, trade associations, animal advocates, industry experts, and even members of Congress already fear that this consolidation could come at a great cost to workers, consumers, small independent grocers, and animals.
Kroger is harming not only animals by abandoning its public pledge to adopt a 100 percent cage-free policy but its own public image. Customers have reason to be skeptical about Kroger’s other forward-looking commitments, such as the company’s pledge to reduce GHG emissions from its operations by 30 percent by 2030.
Consumers have the power to hold companies accountable to their word. Visit CantTrustKroger.com to urge Kroger to reinstate its longstanding commitment to going 100 percent cage-free.
AJ Albrecht is managing director of Mercy For Animals in the United States and Canada. She is a licensed attorney and past chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee.
Mercy For Animals is a leading international nonprofit working to end industrial animal agriculture by constructing a just and sustainable food system. Active in Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, and the United States, the organization has conducted more than 100 investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses, influenced more than 500 corporate policies, and helped pass historic legislation to ban cages for farmed animals. Join us at MercyForAnimals.org.