An opinion piece by comedian Bill Maher in The New York Times adds to the public pressure on Costco Wholesale over the sourcing of its eggs. The company says it sells a lot of cage-free eggs but there aren’t enough to meet the gargantuan demands of its customers.
Comedian Bill Maher has joined a growing effort to get Costco Wholesale to come up with a plan to get rid of eggs from hens raised in battery cages, the latest broadside in a high-pressure campaign by activists who have zeroed in on the mammoth retailer as a way to help curb the practice.
Maher penned an opinion piece (titled “Free the Hens, Costco!”) published on The New York Times website late Thursday. He said he is a fan of Costco’s socially conscious approach to business, but that the company “can do better than this.”
“Costco, please, free the hens already,” Maher wrote.
Costco sells a lot of cage-free eggs — but it says there aren’t enough to meet the gargantuan demands of its customers, and has stood by its supply network.
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Maher is the second celebrity to rally to the cause, after actor Ryan Gosling last month sent a letter to Costco CEO Craig Jelinek. The campaign follows an undercover video released by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) showing gruesome footage of an egg farm that provides eggs to Costco.
The farm, in Pennsylvania, is run by Hillandale Farms. Costco contends that its experts have recently inspected the facility, finding it appropriate. Hillandale has said that the practices shown in the video do not reflect its standards.
HSUS also filed complaints with federal regulators and paid for highly visible online ads on this newspaper’s website.
The video shot by its undercover investigator, who briefly worked at the farm, has been viewed more than 450,000 times on YouTube.
The campaign is a rare backlash by progressive groups against a company that they often see as well-meaning. HSUS itself has praised Costco’s initiatives on seeking to switch to pork products from crate-free pigs.
Left-leaning commentators like that Costco pays employees well, and its founders have been aligned with Democratic politics.
The famously liberal Maher started his opinion piece by declaring: “I like Costco.”
“We backed the same presidential candidate in the past few elections, and I like its generous wages and willingness to give its employees health care,” he wrote. “And of course I agree with it on gay rights.”
But he criticized Costco’s “refusal to set a timeline for getting rid of eggs from battery cages,” which he says torment animals. “Costco, which has generally been in front of the curve of social values, is now lagging.”
Costco says it’s working hard to increase its cage-free egg supply, but its needs are so huge — it expects to sell 2.9 billion eggs this year — that there aren’t enough available.
Nevertheless, Costco Vice President Craig Wilson said in an interview, the number of organic, cage-free eggs it sells is expected to soar to 720 million this year, or about a quarter of its total egg sales, from about 34 million in 2006.
In addition, the company expects to sell an additional 783 million eggs this year from hens living in so-called “enriched colony” cages, larger enclosures that Wilson described as “cruelty-free.”
Animal rights group Farm Sanctuary says it organized the editorial by Maher, who last October had a New York Times Op-Ed piece denouncing gestation crates for pigs.