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25th Jul 2021

Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban

  • Only Austria, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands have some limits on the use of cages in national law (Photo: Compassion in World Farming)

More than 1.4 million citizens across all EU member states have called on the European Commission to ban keeping farmed animals in cages - arguing the practice is cruel and unnecessary.

The European Citizens' initiative End the Cage Age launched by British NGO Compassion in World Farming in 2018, is supported by other 170 environmental and animal welfare organisations from across Europe, food companies and scientists.

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  • In its Farm to Fork strategy the EU Commission is committed to revising animal welfare legislation (Photo: Compassion in World Farming)

It focussed on phasing out cages used for hens, rabbits, pullets, broiler breeders, layer breeders, quail, ducks and geese, as well as farrowing crates for sows and individual calf pens.

"The EU claims to be a leader in animal welfare, yet every year it still condemns more than 300 million farmed animals to lives of cramped misery in cages," Olga Kikou, head of Compassion in World Farming, said on Thursday (15 April) during a hearing with representatives of EU institutions.

"This medieval practice is not only cruel but also completely unnecessary since viable cage-free systems exist and are in use in some parts of the EU...such as barns, organic systems, free range or free farrowing," she added.

So far, only Austria, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands have some limitations on the use of cages in national legislation, and, accordingly, they have the highest percentage of cage-free farmed animals in the bloc.

In the Farm to Fork strategy, the EU Commission committed to revising the 1998 directive on farmed animals protection.

A report, expected at the end of this year, will assess whether this legislation remains fit for purpose.

However, according to Bo Algers, veterinarian and professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, EU law for farmed animals is "outdated" because new scientific evidence has emerged since the 1990s.

"Today, we have a much better understanding of how physical, physiological and psychological factors relate to animal welfare…and it is crystal clear that cages, due to their inherent physical and behavioural restriction, cannot provide good welfare," he warned.

During the hearing, the EU commissioner for health and food safety Stella Kyriakides insisted that animal welfare and health are very high on the EU executive's agenda.

"We are very much aware that we need to do more, and we need to strive for better," she also said.

EU commissioner for agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski, for his part, told campaigners they have "the full support from the EU Commission to implement this transformation."

He also pointed out that EU farm subsidies and recovery funds could, partly, be used to phase out caged farming and implement alternative methods.

But so far, only two percent of EU funds have gone to animal welfare, he said.

'Better ways of farming exist'

Last month, a group of food companies, including Barilla, Ferrero, Nestlé and retailers such as ALDI and IKEA, urged the phase out the use of cages in animal farming, starting with egg-laying hens.

In a letter sent to the commission, they noted that "cage-free systems are widespread, economically viable, and provide better living conditions for hens".

Over 1,000 business in Europe have already eliminated cages for hens or have pledged to do so by 2025.

Meanwhile, more than 140 scientists are also supporting the citizens' campaign to end the use of cages for farmed animals in the EU, arguing that "better ways of farming exist".

"The scientific argument against cages is clear - European farmed animals live miserable lives confined to small spaces. Many are denied important and basic natural behaviours and what makes a life worth living," they said.

The EU Commission has to decide by 15 July whether they will start a legislative process to ban caged farming.

"We are now looking at the European Commission and member states to prove that they take European Citizens' Initiatives as a democratic instrument seriously," said MEP Anja Hazekamp, head of the European Parliament's animal welfare intergroup.

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