The Truth About Costco and Cage-Free Eggs
by Michael Goldberg
Last winter, as I worked on an animal rights article for the The Daily Pitchfork, I contacted Costco to see about speaking to an executive about “cage-free” eggs. The mega retailer had just announced that it was committed to eventually selling only cage-free eggs. I assumed they would want to talk about this new development, and perhaps more broadly about their animal welfare policies.
I was wrong.
A Costco publicist responded by sending me a half-page statement that began: “Costco Wholesale is committed to the ethical treatment of animals. Our mission statement to this effect is contained on our web site. We enforce this through testing and inspection of facilities, done by persons who are independent of the suppliers…”
When I sent her a follow-up, I got this via email: “I'm sorry Michael but our Corporate statement is the only information I am able to provide at this time. Thank you.”
Now I know why Costco was so closemouthed. Their statements about being committed to animal welfare are patently untrue. I know this because Direct Action Everywhere’s Open Rescue team visited two Costco suppliers during the past year or so. What we found at Pleasant Valley Farms in Farmington, CA, which provides cage-free eggs to Costco, and Hormel’s Farmer John farms in Kings County, CA, which provides various cuts of dead pig to Costco, was horrifying.
Our investigators shot footage of pigs eating other live pigs, and hens attacking other hens. In both facilities, the air was foul and the animals crammed together so tightly that at times pigs stood on other pigs and hens roosted on other hens. There were numerous animals with open wounds, and at Pleasant Valley Farms we found the dead bodies of hens scattered among the living.
If you go to Costco’s website, you find that the company claims it supports the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council's “five freedoms.” The Five Freedoms, as they appear in Costco’s “Mission Statement on Animal Welfare”:
· Freedom from fear and distress
· Freedom from discomfort
· Freedom from thirst and hunger
· Freedom to exhibit normal behavior
· Freedom from pain, injury and disease
But the truth is, the animals at the two farms we investigated, as well as at Costco suppliers that Mercy For Animals and the Humane Society of the United States investigated in 2012 and 2015, experience none of the five freedoms.
And the truth about cage-free – Costco says that this year it will sell a billion cage-free eggs, 26% of the company’s total egg sales – is that in many ways it is worse even than raising hens in cages.
Studies show that there is nothing humane about cage-free environments. Mortality rates, psychological measures of stress, and environmental conditions (in particular, air quality) are no better in cage-free than cages. Behavioral opportunities are higher in cage-free but only marginally so, and there have been no studies showing these opportunities lead to improved physiological measures of well-being, including stress.
Additionally, although cage-free eggs (from the DxE investigated farm) sold at Costco with the Kirkland brand are labeled Certified Humane, DxE found that the farm also does not meet many of the standards necessary for a Certified Humane label.
When a reporter for the Washington Post contacted Costco to get a response to the DxE investigation, executive vice president Ron Vachris decided it was time to talk, and seemed to confirm that the company actually cares little about animal welfare.
“They appear to concern one barn of laying hens at one of the many independent suppliers from which Costco procures cage-free conventional and organic eggs,” Vachris told the Washington Post. “We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation.”
While it would be nice to think that by purchasing cage-free eggs from Costco, one is supporting humane treatment of hens, this is simply not the case. The only way to ensure humane treatment of hens (and other animals) is to stop using them.
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