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World's Largest Food Distributor Commits to Source 100% Cage-Free Eggs

Animals
World's Largest Food Distributor Commits to Source 100% Cage-Free Eggs

Sysco Corp, the world's largest foodservice distributor, will be the first company of its kind to commit to sourcing 100 percent cage-free eggs in its entire supply chain in the U.S. by 2026.

Food distributor Sysco Corp is the latest major company to switch to cage-free eggs. Photo credit: Stephanie Frankle at Animal Place

The company, which clocked $48.7 billion in sales last year—about $10 billion more than McDonald’s—supplies food to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, hotels and inns and hospitality businesses nationwide, with approximately 425,000 customers to its name. It operates from 194 locations throughout the U.S., Bahamas, Canada, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Sysco's commitment to cage-free eggs comes after strategic conversations with The Humane League, which approached the company about the policy. The international animal protection nonprofit pointed out that although Sysco previously has an animal welfare policy and a commitment to eliminate gestation crates for sows, the company had not yet addressed the cages used in its egg supply chain. Following conversations, The Humane League and Sysco negotiated a 10-year timeline that allows the company to accommodate their massive supply chain.

Sysco's clients go through innumerable amounts of eggs, making its latest commitment a huge blow to the inhumane practice of confining egg-laying hens in cages in the U.S.

"What this means is that distributors are going cage-fee," David Coman-Hidy, executive director for The Humane League, told EcoWatch. "It’s going to impact the entire country."

Significantly, this also impacts Sysco's restaurants and other clients that have not made the decision to go cage-free, Coman-Hidy pointed out, making it "one more nail in the coffin for battery cages."

Although the label "cage-free" has its problems, the food industry's overall shift to cage-free eggs is a big step for animal welfare. The vast majority of eggs that we see in the U.S.—such as standard supermarket varieties and, yes, the ones that Sysco has been distributing—come from hens confined in battery cages. These hens cannot spread their wings, they cannot walk around or express other normal hen behaviors. They may never see the light of day.

So why pressure companies to switch to cage-free and not, say, "pasture-raised" or other more humane alternatives?

"We’re focused on what could reduce the most suffering," Coman-Hidy said. For now, it appears that cage-free is the most feasible and realistic switch for giant multibillion dollar companies.

Sysco said that the transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply chain by 2026 will require significant collaboration amongst industry participants, including its suppliers, to specifically address food affordability and environmental concerns. The company said it is committed to working through the supply chain to achieve a sustainable solution for both egg producers and its customers.

The Humane League has previously influenced a number of major companies across several industries, including Walmart, The Walt Disney Company, Kroger, Target, Aldi, Denny’s, Nestle, General Mills, Costco, PepsiCo, Grupo Bimbo, Unilever, Carnival Cruises and Starwood Hotels to convert exclusively to cage-free eggs.

Notably, the organization is also responsible for United Egg Producer’s recent commitment of eliminating the practice of male chick culling in the U.S. The decision will prevent the suffering of 260 million chicks and 960,000 hens each year.

The Humane League is hoping to eliminate the use of battery cages around the world and is pressuring global companies to end the practice, Coman-Hidy said.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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