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Costco says it's making progress on cage-free eggs

Months into a celebrity-laden campaign by animal-welfare advocates to get Costco Wholesale (COST) to sell eggs only from cage-free hens, the retailer on Tuesday said it supports the goal and has made major progress toward reaching it.

"We have been working on this very hard, behind the scenes," Costco vice president Craig Wilson told CBS MoneyWatch. "We're working with our suppliers in a very positive way to get this done."

Wilson also dismissed the contention by the Humane Society of the United States that Costco in 2007 had committed to going 100 percent cage-free but had failed to follow through with a time frame: "I said we wanted to go cage-free, but there's no way we can predict how long it's going to take -- we're not prepared to give any kind of timeline."

In 2006, cage-free eggs made up 2 percent of Costco's overall egg sales. In 2015, 26 percent were cage-free, which, given "93 percent of all eggs produced in the U.S. come from battery cages, makes for a compelling number when you look at the Costco numbers," said Wilson.

It cost anywhere from $3 million to $5 million for individual egg producers to convert from a battery cage system to a cage-free system, Wilson said.

In June, the Humane Society released undercover video footage allegedly showing mistreated birds and unsanitary conditions at a Pennsylvania supplier of eggs to Costco. A week later, the Humane Society in a shareholder proposal called on Costco to disclose risks facing investors from what it called "animal abuse issues within its grocery division's supply chain."

In the ensuing months, celebrities including Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Bill Maher have joined the animal-welfare group's efforts to get Costco to commit to a timeline for sourcing from cage-free suppliers.

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