In 2016, Walmart U.S. and Sam's Club U.S. set goals to transition to 100% cage-free egg supply chains by 2025, subject to regulatory changes and based on available supply, affordability, and customer demand. In addition to promoting cage-free eggs with our customers, we have challenged our egg suppliers to innovate to improve the health and welfare of laying hens, including working toward the production and supply of cost-effective, cage-free egg products.
Since setting this goal, Walmart U.S. and Sam's Club U.S. have taken a number of steps to promote cage-free eggs. In FY2023, we made investments to lower the shelf price of cage-free eggs at Walmart U.S. and continue to promote cage-free eggs through favorable shelf space allocation and shelf placement; for instance, placing cage-free eggs prominently at eye level. We have also chosen to drive our commitment through our private brand eggs; for example, at Sam’s Club U.S. we are transitioning to cage-free eggs in all shell-egg items that are intended for household consumption, keeping cage-free eggs cost-competitive relative to national brands. Progress was accelerated by the many Sam’s Club U.S. locations which stock Members Mark 100% cage-free shell eggs that are intended for household consumption.
To identify ways to accelerate progress towards our cage-free egg goals, in 2021 we commissioned a third-party review of our transition strategy. The consultant engaged NGOs, animal scientists, suppliers, producer organizations, and farmers and reviewed the consumer and policy landscape. The consultant cited several barriers to transitioning to 100% cage-free eggs, including:
- Cost of production. Cage-free eggs cost more to produce (including capital and operating costs), and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows higher shelf prices relative to conventional eggs.
- Affordability and customer demand. Many customers rely on eggs as an affordable source of protein. As a matter of policy, many states do not allow customers to purchase cage-free eggs as part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); additionally, one state requires grocers participating in WIC to offer both conventional and cage-free eggs).
- Availability. While the supply of cage-free eggs currently outpaces demand, one independent analysis suggests producers would need to invest at least $7 billion to expand the capacity of cage-free housing systems to supply 100% of the food system commitments for shell eggs by 2025.
Despite these efforts, we are not currently on track to meet the 2025 goal of 100% cage-free eggs. In FY2023, cage-free eggs comprised 21% of total shell egg net sales at Walmart U.S. and 41% at Sam’s Club U.S., based on supplier reports —slower progress than we had hoped.
Read More: Our Journey Toward 100% Cage-Free Eggs Supply Chain: Progress & Challenges.
We have asked suppliers to find and implement solutions to address concerns regarding housing systems that lack sufficient space, enrichment, or socialization, such as sow gestation crates. We encourage Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. suppliers to report on sow management in their supply chains through THESIS.
Progress has been slow for two reasons. First, suppliers, NGOs, and policy makers often have different views regarding optimal housing for animal welfare (e.g. whether sows in group housing are more susceptible to injury from other animals). Several states have or are putting in place differing regulations regarding the use of sow gestation crates, making it challenging to implement consistent solutions nationally. Second, capital costs to transition to crate-free housing, group housing or expansion of space per pig may result in increased cost to the consumer, reducing the affordability of pork as a protein, a particular concern in an inflationary environment in which consumers are price-sensitive.
Walmart will continue engaging suppliers and other stakeholders on animal welfare issues, solving for animal welfare, sustainability, affordability, and security of supply. Currently, we are engaging suppliers and experts on sow gestation and other animal welfare issues and will determine whether we need to update policies or practices.
Responsible Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are one of many critical tools used to keep animals healthy, but their misuse may lead to antibiotic resistance, making it more difficult to treat human and animal diseases.
As stated in our Antibiotics in Farm Animals Position, antibiotics should be used responsibly to preserve effectiveness in human and veterinary medicine, and we ask Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. fresh and frozen meat, seafood, deli, dairy, and egg suppliers to:
- comply with our food safety standards and all regulatory requirements;
- adopt and implement judicious use principles (such as the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Judicious Use Principles of Antimicrobials and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Voluntary Guidance for Industry #209);
- eliminate growth promotion uses of all antibiotics; and
- promote transparency by providing an antibiotics management report to Walmart, and publicly reporting antibiotic use on an annual basis. As of 2022, 46% of our Walmart U.S. fresh and frozen beef, fresh and frozen pork, fresh and frozen poultry, shell egg, and fluid diary milk supply by product net sales is covered by suppliers reporting on antibiotic use through THESIS.3