By Lisa Baertlein
(Reuters) - Bakery-cafe chain Panera Bread Co will stop using eggs laid by caged hens by 2020, following similar moves from McDonald's Corp and other large U.S. restaurant chains.
The commitment from Panera, a chain with more than 1,900 restaurants, comes as major U.S. restaurant companies are switching to meat and eggs from animals that are raised more humanely and fed fewer antibiotics.
Thursday's egg announcement applies to the company's U.S. Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread restaurants. It covers Panera's annual supply of roughly 120 million shell eggs, hard boiled and liquid egg whites in addition to those used in sweets, soufflés and dressings.
The company said that 21 percent of the shell eggs, hard boiled and liquid egg whites it now uses already are cage-free.
Beyond that, Panera said the hens that lay the shell and hard boiled eggs it serves never receive antibiotics and are fed an all-vegetarian diet.
This year, the company's entire pork supply – about 7 million pounds – will be gestation-crate free, raised without antibiotics and fed a vegetarian-only diet.
Panera also will complete its switch to 100 percent chicken and roasted turkey from birds raised without antibiotics in 2015.
Meat producers are beginning to cut antibiotic use on the farm amid growing concern that the overuse of such drugs is contributing to rising numbers of life-threatening human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as "superbugs."
Panera has not yet set a target for completing its move to 100 percent grass-fed, free-range beef. On Thursday, it said 89 percent of its roughly 4 million pound annual beef supply will meet that criteria this year.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry)