Egg Farmers of Canada says its members will not install any new battery cages and will begin an industry-wide transition to alternative production methods for its egg-producing hens. The shift will take 20 years to complete.

Animal welfare groups say battery cages, which each contain a few birds, are so cramped that birds can't walk, spread their wings or engage in other natural behaviours. Each bird, they say, has less floor space than the size of a sheet of notebook paper.  

EFC, which represents more than 1,000 commercial egg farms in this country, said it hopes to have 50 per cent of egg production done through alternative methods within eight years, rising to 85 per cent by 2031.

All production would be in alternative housing by 2036, which could include "enriched housing," which sees birds provided with perches and curtained-off nesting areas within much larger cages, or in free-run, aviary or free-range housing.

The egg farmers group called its timetable "a realistic forecast of what is achievable." 

"In response to the best available scientific research and in light of changing consumer preferences, I'm pleased that the entire industry has agreed to an orderly transition plan that will further diversify our production practices," said Peter Clarke, chairman of Egg Farmers of Canada, in a statement.

Cages now dominate

About 90 per cent of egg production is currently done using conventional battery cage housing. 

The animal welfare group Mercy For Animals (MFA) commended Egg Farmers of Canada for its intention to phase out battery cages, but said its 2036 deadline was "simply outrageous." 

"Cramming animals into cages so small they cannot walk or spread their wings is horrific animal cruelty that should be ended with the utmost speed and urgency," said MFA president Nathan Runkle, in a statement.

On Thursday, Cara Foods, which owns Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey's and East Side Mario's, became the latest food company to announce a switch to 100 per cent cage-free eggs in its entire supply chain. Cara said its new cage-free transition would be complete by 2020.

Earlier this week, the owner of Tim Hortons and Burger King said its supply chain would be completely cage-free by 2025. McDonald's, Wendy's, Starbucks, Subway and dozens of other major food restaurants and retailers have announced similar policies.