Cracked Egg 63529623ab164

Let WIC Egg Buyers Out of the Cage

Oct. 20, 2022
If they’re required to buy only conventional eggs, what happens if there are none around?

One of the very few Latin phrases I’ve memorized is lex non cogit ad impossibilia: “The law does not require impossibilities.” It came to mind when I read about the struggles that Walmart is having in transitioning to selling nothing but cage-free eggs.

Various obstacles are preventing Walmart, America’s largest grocer by volume, from being able to reach a previously announced goal of selling eggs only from hens who have not been confined to cages by 2025. It’s mostly a supply issue. But one difficulty caught my eye: Catering to shoppers who use food stamps, specifically the ones who take advantage of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) add-on to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Because Walmart is in effect a discount grocer, it gets a lot of business from food stamp clients. But food stamps come with strings, and the WIC program has even more of them. WIC restricts the purchase of so many products that most retailers find it easier to tell shoppers what they can buy with it, which is the meaning of those WIC logos you often see on the price stickers on supermarket shelves.

Cage-free eggs tend to be about twice as expensive as conventional ones. As such, in at least 17 states they’re considered a luxury item that isn’t a proper purchase for a WIC recipient, according to Walmart’s statement.

That same statement relates that Walmart still wants to sell only cage-free eggs someday; it’s just not committing any longer to a firm date. But if that does happen, what is a Walmart shopper who uses WIC and wants eggs supposed to do? Get them somewhere else, I guess – only a shopper who needs WIC in the first place is not necessarily someone who can hop in a car and drive miles away for eggs.

As I’ve said before, this business of scoring political points by telling people they can’t buy this or that with food stamps is just silly and counterproductive. Most people know what they need and can afford; anyone who blows their food stamp allotment on frivolous or luxury items will suffer accordingly, simply by running out of food money.

I guess the issue comes down to how important we think it is to make things more comfortable for laying hens. I’ve seen a conventional egg-laying operation, and I happen to think letting them out of those cages is a good thing. In any case, cage-free eggs are the future, thanks in part to mandates going into effect in California and Massachusetts. As egg companies devote more and more of their production to cage-free, over the long term, I can see conventional eggs getting squeezed out of the marketplace.

WIC recipients shouldn’t be squeezed at the same time by nonsensical mandates, about cage-free eggs or anything else. They have enough problems.

About the Author

Pan Demetrakakes | Senior Editor

Pan has written about the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. His areas of coverage have included formulations, processing, packaging, marketing and retailing. Pan worked for Food Processing Magazine for six years in the 1990s, where he was operations editor (his current role), touring dozens of food plants of every description. He has also worked for Packaging and Food & Beverage Packaging magazines, the latter as chief editor, during which he won three ASBPE awards. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in communications.

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