File picture: Mike Blake/Reuters

Following an online petition of over 18 000 concerned customers and additional pressure from a number of local animal protection groups earlier this year, McDonald's South Africa has announced plans to switch to eggs from 100 percent cage-free chickens by 2025.

The Humane Society International (HSI)says South Africans consume 7.8 billion eggs each year from 24.3 million hens.

However, 95% of South Africa's eggs come from hens confined in battery cages, wire boxes smaller than the size of an A4 piece of paper. The hens have no space to do any ordinary chicken activities, such as spreading their wings, nesting, walking or perching. They will almost never see the sunlight or take a breath of fresh air.

Extensive research shows that the hens are frustrated and suffer psychological stress. They also suffer from physical harms, including bone weakness and breakage, feather loss, and diseases. Research has also shown that eggs from confined hens have higher rates of Salmonella compared to those that are cage-free.

McDonalds SA's change of heart follows dialogue with a number of animal protection groups such as HSI, a global animal protection organisation, which has been working with McDonald's on this and other animal welfare issues around the world.

"We applaud McDonald's South Africa for its leadership in corporate social responsibility and animal welfare", said Tozie Zokufa, HSI's Africa programme manager. "McDonald's decision to switch to exclusively cage-free eggs improves the landscape for farm animals across South Africa, and makes it clear that the future of egg production is cage-free. We look forward to working with more companies on similar policies."

Over the past months, McDonald's SA has been working closely with it's egg supplier to understand the viability of expanding the cage-free policy to South Africa.

McDonald's SA Chief Executive Officer Greg Solomon said: "Starting in 2017, we will begin to phase in cage-free eggs at all of our restaurants. Our egg supplier has committed to providing us with quality, safe and consistent supply at more than 10% per annum until all the eggs we purchase are cage-free by 2025. The move is testament to McDonald's commitment towards sustainability and food innovations."