Foodservice takes on animal welfare

Major companies are making commitments to meet demand for cage-free eggs and more.

chick egg

When Boston University students lobbied the school in 2012 to serve only cage-free eggs in campus dining facilities, the university agreed to change its buying practices. But because Aramark, BU’s longtime provider, didn’t buy exclusively cage-free eggs, BU Dining Services had to enlist the company to procure the right suppliers.

Similar scenarios have played out on college campuses across the country in recent years as students make their voices heard. And it appears foodservice providers are listening.

In March, in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, Aramark announced it would purchase only cage-free eggs for all of its U.S. foodservice operations by 2020—a key component of the company’s comprehensive animal-welfare policy that addresses the treatment of animals for egg, pork, veal, beef, poultry and dairy products. Josh Balk, senior director of food policy at the Humane Society, calls the policy “the most overarching of any foodservice company—even any food company.”

Aramark isn’t alone in embracing change, especially when it comes to eggs. Nearly 30 of the top 40 foodservice distributors have made commitments to go cage-free, Balk said, including Sodexo and Compass Group.

“The top three alone switching to cage-free affects more than 3.5 million animals and a billion eggs a year,” he says. “The foodservice sector really is leading the way.”

Despite that progress, some operators, such as Holly Emmons, foodservice manager at Union Hospital in Elkton, Md., prefer to retain more control over their food supply. While the 122-bed hospital buys its dry goods and condiments from a distributor, Emmons sources more than 60 percent of her food—beef, chicken, cage-free eggs, organic produce and more—directly from local farmers and growers. She took pork off the menu years ago when she couldn’t find a sustainable source.

Emmons believes local sourcing has increased the hospital’s food safety—her biggest concern.

“When animals are treated better, it’s a healthier environment for them and for us as a consequence,” she says.

Although the majority of Emmons’ purchases do cost more, she’s managed to remain “budget neutral” by implementing small changes, such as buying off-brand cereal, that
allow her “to purchase the quality of food I want,” she says.

Craig Hill, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services at BU, is optimistic that socially responsible food will keep becoming even more accessible.

“Foodservice providers play a big role in making these changes not only ecologically sound and socially responsible, but also economically viable,” he says. 

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