Wild Oats Making Egg Suppliers Go Cage-Free

Wild Oats Markets Inc., the third-largest natural foods grocer in the United States, said Tuesday it will require all its suppliers of eggs to remove their chickens from cages and allow them to roam free within their chicken coops.

Wild Oats (Nasdaq: OATS) is based in Boulder. The policy will be enforced for suppliers to the company's 75 Wild Oats Natural Marketplaces located in 23 states.

The company said it sold 1.6 million cartons of eggs in 2004.

Wild Oats operates more than 100 stores under various names in 24 states and British Columbia. Annual sales in 2004 were $1.05 billion.

Wild Oats worked with the Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, D.C., to craft the new policy.

While some U.S. companies, such as McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's, have asked their egg suppliers to increase cage space, this announcement makes Wild Oats the nation's first major chain to formally implement a cage-free corporate policy for chickens of its eggs suppliers, the humane society said in a statement.

"Demand for improving the welfare of farm animals has never been higher," said Perry Odak, resident and CEO of Wild Oats, in a statement.

"We are hopeful that our decision not to approve egg farmers who use caged birds for our national and regional product lists will encourage the egg industry to move in the direction of phasing out its use of battery cages, and shifting toward cage-free methods that take the animals' welfare into account," Odak's statement said.

Approximately 98 percent of eggs sold in the United States come from birds confined in what are called "battery cages," which are so small the animals cannot spread their wings.

"Birds in battery cages suffer immensely. Wild Oats has taken a bold step by avoiding the sale of eggs from caged birds, and we enthusiastically applaud their efforts to help reduce animal suffering," said Paul Shapiro, the humane society's factory farming campaign manager.