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Taco Bell will shift to cage-free eggs by 2016, faster than competitors (+video)

Taco Bell says it will switch to cage-free eggs by the end of 2016. Meeting that ambitious deadline would make Taco Bell the first quick service restaurant to fully adopt a cage-free policy. 

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    People line up for the first Taco Bell fast-food restaurant in Japan at Tokyo's Shibuya shopping district.
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Several fast food restaurants and food processors, from McDonald's to General Mills, have made recent pledges to transition to a cage-free egg supply in the coming years. On Monday, Taco Bell moved to outdo them all. 

The chain announced this morning that it will convert 100 percent of its egg products to cage-free by the end of 2016. Meeting that ambitious deadline would make the quick food restaurant the first in the industry to achieve a 100 percent cage-free standard.

“Implementing this change at record pace underscores that we are always listening and responding to our customers, while doing what is right for our business,” said Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell Corp, in the press release.  

Taco Bell’s eggs will be verified cage-free and carry the “American Humane Certified” based on standards from the American Humane Association (AHA). The shift has been praised by animal activist groups as major improvement of Taco Bell's and the rest of the fast food industry's standards for animal welfare. 

“Switching to 100-percent cage-free eggs by the end of 2016 is a tremendous commitment that will quickly improve the lives of countless animals and further cement the future of egg production as being one without cages,” Josh Balk, senior food policy director of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a company press release.

Its proponents say that cage-free egg production allows laying chickens hens to participate in natural animal behaviors, like walking, nesting, perching, and socializing with other animals, which can lead for lower stress levels. Egg production in battery cages, which keep the hens confined, is already banned in the EU and a handful of US states. 

Taco Bell has previously promised to remove artificial flavors and colors, trams fat, high fructose corn syrup, and palm oil from its menu items. The company confirmed they were still on track Monday.

The chain's ambitious timeline for both more transparent food ingredients and cage-free eggs places it at the forefront of a sweeping industry trend of healthier, simpler menus.

Burger King is the closest competitor in the shift to cage-free eggs with a target date of 2017. Panera Bread and Starbucks are aiming to make the transition by 2020. McDonalds, the fast food giant, stated earlier this year it would aim for cage-free egg use over the next 10 years.

Taco Bell is “demonstrating that major egg users can make the switch to exclusively cage-free eggs in a short amount of time, and they deserve a ton of credit for making this commitment,” Mr. Balkan said to Nation’s Restaurant News.

The free-cage egg shift and removal of artificial flavoring and other ingredients will not be accompanied by any price increases, Taco Bell said. 

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