After hundreds of thousands of signatures on several change.org petitons against Sodexo, the food-service provider that feeds UT and 41,700 other organizations worldwide announced Feb. 19 that it will begin phasing out the use of battery-cage eggs.
A national animal rights organization, The Humane League, stated Sodexo has been buying liquid eggs from battery-cage farms, which keep hens immobilized in cramped cages. Battery-cage farming has been proven to lead to the mental deterioration of hens, as well as the spread of diseases like salmonella, according to studies conducted by the Humane Society. These are the same eggs used to make omelets in UT’s cafeteria.
Sodexo, a hospitality corporation, caters to students and others around the globe, including at UT. The company operates at 9,000 client sites in North America and 32,700 sites worldwide.
Battery-cage farming was banned in California this year and will be illegal in Michigan by 2019, according to the Huffington Post. Burger King has promised to phase out battery-cage farmed eggs by 2017, and Whole Foods has stopped selling caged-hen eggs.
The Humane League had been campaigning for Sodexo as a whole to phase out battery-cage farmed eggs since November. The petition was started by Humane League volunteer and Jacksonville resident Jessika Hopper. In late January she asked UT to pressure Sodexo to phase out battery-cage farmed eggs.
Hopper’s change.org petition got almost 16,700 signatures, and the Humane League’s other petitions against Sodexo recieved hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Hopper said she learned about the League’s campaign against Sodexo from its Facebook page.
“I saw they were targeting Sodexo’s clients, so they worked with me to set up a petition similar to theirs,” Hopper said. “I knew U of Tampa uses Sodexo, and I wanted them to take responsibility for the cruelty they were supporting by using Sodexo. I hope it grabbed their attention and contributed to Sodexo finally giving in and creating the new policy!”
While Hopper is not a UT student or Tampa resident, she still felt that UT needed to realize what they had been endorsing.
“I just feel that any institution should be socially responsible,” Hopper said. “As the petition notes, battery cages are of the cruelest practices and are even illegal in several states. It’s not that UT is singled out; they were just a piece of the campaign.”
The Humane League’s campaign coordinator, Taylor Ford, detailed the organization’s efforts to work with Sodexo. He says that after reaching out to the company in late November “to see if they’d be open to talking about phasing out the use of battery cage eggs,” The Humane League did not receive a response for several months.
“They didn’t respond,” Ford said. “So we began working with their clients to raise awareness about the issue.
The Human League also reached out to each of Sodexo’s clients, including UT, at the beginning of their campaign. Ford said UT would have been contacted in December or January.
“The email made them aware of the concern we were looking to address and the actions we planned to take to address them,” Ford said. “A lot of schools do not respond to us and some stay in communication with us throughout the campaign. University of Tampa did not choose to go cage free nor seemed to express an interest in working to end their contract with Sodexo.”
The Humane League has influenced change for animal rights not only in Sodexo, but in corporations nationwide. In 2014 the organization persuaded Ikea, Starbucks, Delaware North and Centerplate to stop buying from battery-cage chicken and pig farms.
In a press release highlighting its efforts to become more humane, Sodexo stated that the company “currently sources about 20 million pounds of liquid eggs annually, from 750,000 egg-laying hens. It will now move to sourcing liquid eggs only from cage-free hens with a phased-in approach that will be complete by the end of 2020.”
Ford said the Humane League is pleased with Sodexo’s new policy.
“It is a huge victory for animals and will impact millions of hens,” Ford said.
Kristin Collins, a sophomore public health major and an intern with the Focusing On Optimal Dietetics for Students club at UT, was also happy to hear of the change.
“It is great to hear that more organizations on our campus are working towards creating a healthier, more attainable lifestyle for college students,” Collins said.
Cindy Parsons, UT associate professor of nursing, has taught nutrition classes to nursing students. She said the change in egg suppliers involves many factors, including the health benefits of eggs and the quality of the product.
“The nutrient val
ue of eggs is well known,” Parsons said. “Eggs provide heart-healthy omega-3 fats, less saturated fat and cholesterol, vitamin E, vitamin A, beta carotene and Vitamin D. One could surmise that given food intake of caged (grain and feed) versus free-range (a variety of plants native to the area they are raised in) [is] that free range would be healthier..”
Sodexo announced other changes. In 2012, Sodexo agreed to phase out the use of gestation crates from its pork supply chain, which should also be completed by 2020. The company has also promised to eliminate the use of veal crates by 2017.
“In a series of next steps to protect and promote improved treatment of farm animals, Sodexo also is committed to working with suppliers to ensure the use of pain relief protocols, particularly as it relates to de-horning, castration and tail-docking procedures, which the company is working to eliminate,” the company announced.
Ford said that while the farming business has a long way to go, Sodexo’s change can still have an impact. He doesn’t believe any animal farming is humane, but The Humane League considers cage-free farming a step up from battery-cage facilities.
“I think everyone’s definition of what ‘humane’ is depends on how you see animals being used in agriculture… Battery cages are easily one of the worst practices in agriculture, and it also affects the largest number of animals (compared to gestation crates, etc),” Ford said. “Getting corporations to go cage-free will shift the industry and create more of a demand for more humane products. Unfortunately, it’s a small step-by-step process, but we believe its our best option.”
Selene San Felice can be reached at email@example.com