Animal welfare organizations cheered news on Monday from the parent company of Tim Hortons and Burger King that the chains will serve cage-free eggs at all of their North American locations by 2025.

Animal welfare groups say the vast majority of hens used for egg production are currently confined to wire cages that are so small, the birds can't walk or even spread their wings. 

In cage-free operations, by contrast, hens are free to walk around and express other natural behaviours. 

'Timmie's joining the cage-free movement is a clear signal that the future of Canadian egg production must be cage-free.' - Sayara Thurston, Humane Society International

"Tim Hortons' announcement is tremendous news for millions of animals," said Sayara Thurston, campaign manager for the Canadian arm of Humane Society International.

"Timmie's joining the cage-free movement is a clear signal that the future of Canadian egg production must be cage-free."

Tim Hortons and Burger King join other chains like Starbucks, McDonald's, Subway, Wendy's, Dunkin' Donuts and Denny's in pledging to eventually refuse eggs from producers who house their hens in small wire cages.

Tim Hortons, with more than 3,600 outlets in Canada alone, is the most significant Canadian chain to make such an announcement.

"Tim Hortons' announcement today is the most substantial cage-free sourcing commitment made by a Canadian restaurant chain we've seen to date," said Josey Kitson, executive director of World Animal Protection Canada. 

The group acknowledges that Tim Hortons' move will require a "substantial investment" from Canadian egg producers. "This commitment, by such an iconic brand, provides direction to both producers and other food companies," said Kitson.    

Restaurant Brands International (RBI), the parent company of Tim Hortons and Burger King, said it would be serving cage-free eggs in the 12,600 North American locations operated by the two chains by 2025.

RBI said it plans to eventually have all of its restaurants around the world move to cage-free eggs, but provided no timeline.

Time to switch

Many other chains are also promising to use only cage-free suppliers by 2025 or 2026 (Starbucks by 2020). McDonald's announced last September that it would use only cage-free eggs at its Canadian and American outlets by 2025.  

Thurston said egg farmers need time to switch over to cage-free operations. "We understand that change can't happen overnight," she said. 

The animal welfare group Mercy for Animals also applauded the RBI move and said the rest of the food industry should follow suit.

"Any food company that has not yet adopted a cage-free egg policy will find itself at odds with common decency, ethics and business trends," said Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle. 

With files from The Canadian Press