Woolworths is set to completely discontinue the sale of cage eggs as part of a long-standing commitment it made a decade ago towards sustainability. However, Aussies may not realise they could still be consuming cage eggs if they shop at the supermarket.
The retailer says it will be phasing out cage eggs from its shelves by 2025, and is already working with suppliers to do this. This move will mean the products, which make up 36 per cent of overall egg sales across Australia, are switched with free-range and barn-laid egg lines in all Woolies stores nationwide.
The supermarket giant has been selling cage-free eggs under its house brand since 2015, but had not entirely removed lines by other suppliers. "We know many retailers and hospitality operators are moving in a similar direction," a Woolworths spokesperson explained. "We understand a change like this takes time, and that's why we've consulted with our suppliers to ensure they have sufficient time to make changes to their production methods."
Fears of egg shortages and high prices
Demand for eggs of all varieties has increased over the past six months, and while Woolworths doesn't see the move away from cage eggs kicking off a shortage, some shoppers are starting to worry about supply and how much they will have to cough up to pay for the grocery staple as the cost of living bites.
"They need eggs on the shelf first. There's never any stock now at Woolies," a shopper posted on Facebook, as others complained that the "woke" move will drive prices up. "Price of free range nearly double... Customers either pay up or go without," responded another customer.
Woolworths, however, says a variety of reasons are behind the reduction in egg supplies. "Across the market, in both retail and hospitality, egg supply has been reduced over the last 18-months due to a range of factors, including weather on-farm and input costs," the Woolies spokesperson revealed.
Despite anxiety over supply and prices, the move has been welcomed by animal welfare groups and many customers who say it's a step in the right direction. "Wow, well done. I hope they all do it," one Facebook user commented. "Let the chooks roam free," added another.
What's the difference?
It's easy to be confused about the difference between cage, free-range and barn-laid eggs, but the RSPCA differentiates the three. While many consumers know free-range eggs are laid by hens allowed to roam outdoors, cage eggs involve hens housed in battery cages made of wire on all sides, which means they're packed in a small space.
Barn-laid eggs – which are not being phased out – are seen as a good alternative to cage eggs, according to the RSPCA. Also known as cage-free eggs, these eggs are laid by hens that are able to move through large sheds with nest boxes.
"RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards require that the hens in a barn-laid egg production system are provided with nest boxes for laying their eggs, perches for roosting, objects to peck at, and litter for scratching, foraging and dust bathing," the group says on its website.
Woolworths' rival Coles has also committed to removing all cage eggs by 2025, with the same plan to end the practice of keeping poultry in battery cages. All Coles own-brand shell eggs sold nationally are already cage-free, while WA is the first state where Coles dropped cage eggs from all suppliers.
Why you could still be eating cage eggs
While Woolworths has committed to phasing out cage eggs, the retailer hasn't announced plans to remove said items from the ingredients of its own-brand products, nor those from other suppliers.
Coles, meanwhile, has transitioned its own-brand products containing egg ingredients to cage-free sources. According to the retailer's 2022 sustainability report, over 42 per cent of its stock keeping units were converted by last June.
Animals Australia has welcomed this move by Coles, but says supermarket shoppers should be aware of the full picture. "The Coles commitment regarding eggs as ingredients is welcome, but from a customer perspective, all the brands, other than Coles brands, do not have to transition away from cage eggs. Ultimately, unless a brand of processed/packaged foods says 'free-range' or 'cage-free' eggs have been used, it will be by default that cage eggs have been used as an ingredient (note, this is because they are cheaper)," a spokesperson for the company told Yahoo News.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.