Wal-Mart Stores Inc., nation's largest food retailer, is pledging to sell only cage-free eggs by 2025, joining a growing list of retailers and food makers making the switch.
The pace picked up when McDonald's announced in September that it will phase out the use of eggs laid by caged hens over the next 10 years. Since then, Target and Costco have been among major retailers to offer specific pledges.
But with Wal-Mart garnering 25 percent of total grocery sales in the U.S., it will have outsized influence on suppliers' practices.
Wal-Mart said Tuesday it will require egg suppliers to be certified and fully compliant with the United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines or an equivalent standard. It will monitor their compliance through a third party. The cage-free standard will apply to eggs sold at more than 5,000 stores including Sam's Club locations.
The move comes as the food industry has been pressed by animal rights groups to eliminate using confined egg-laying hens, as well as other practices.
Last year, Wal-Mart urged thousands of U.S. suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals as part of a set of principles it laid out to improve animal welfare. It has offered customers the option of cage-free eggs in its U.S. stores since 2001.
"The era of confining hens in cages in America's food system is officially sunsetting," wrote Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a blog published after Wal-Mart's announcement.
Pacelle said that his group has been working with Wal-Mart for the past decade and has traveled frequently to Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to "make our case" to key Wal-Mart personnel.
Given that Wal-Mart likely buys more eggs than any other food retailer and that cage-free egg production in the U.S. is limited, it wasn't a decision that it could make "precipitously," Pacelle wrote in his blog.