Or is the fast food giant just plain laying an egg? Lots of controversy has accompanied the company’s recent decision not to use eggs from cage-free chickens for its Egg McMuffin and other breakfast selections.

The U.S. Humane Society asked McDonald’s to take 5% of its egg-laying hens out of cages that are smaller than a sheet of paper, according to a recent article. The Society has advocated a more humane approach to egg and chicken meat production for some time now.

McDonald’s Board of Directors acknowledged that its major competitors, such as Wendy’s, Burger King, Denny’s and Hardee’s, already do so. But it also declined the request citing this reason: Research is inconclusive as to whether cage-free eggs are really better.

At first blush, it might look like McDonald’s doesn’t care about this issue. But that isn’t so. Last year, the company joined the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply which will conduct more research on cage-free farming in the near future.

Interestingly, McDonald’s uses cage-free eggs in Europe already. No doubt due to political pressure there. With upcoming testing, the company will likely adopt the same policy in the United States in the future. It will all depend on new research into cage free and other options being explored by the Coalition. And it will likely depend on how costs can be managed.

A recent article took pains to present both sides of this controversial issue and did it very well. I think it’s worth looking at.

The upside of caged chickens (according to a Pew study):
• Cheaper, more efficient food production
• Prevents the spread of animal-borne diseases like salmonella
• Protects the animals from bad weather conditions
• Keeps the cost of the eggs and chicken meat lower

The downside:
• Animals kept in small, confined spaces suffer because their movements are very limited. It is thought many animals live in pain. (Note: Even cage-free birds are often deprived of fresh air and sunlight, often almost as confined as caged chickens because there are thousands of birds sharing a specific amount of space. The main difference: They can move around freely.
• Caged free eggs cost much more. The USDA reports that a dozen eggs from caged chickens average $1.11 at retail whereas a dozen cage-free eggs retail for $2.79; organic eggs cost even more.

• Do you purchase cage-free eggs at the supermarket or are they too expensive? Would you buy them if you could afford to?
• Would you prefer that McDonald’s purchase most of its eggs from cage-free producers?
• If they don’t, would that send you to a competitor to purchase a fast breakfast instead?
• Would you be willing to pay more for McDonald’s breakfast foods made with more expensive eggs? If so, how much more would you be willing to pay?

I’d love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni