The ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ Initiative calls on the European Union to phase out the use of cages in animal farming. The Initiative received 1.4 million signatures from all across Europe. This shows that the welfare of farmed animals is a shared concern for citizens.
The number of signatures, verified by national civil servants, easily exceeds the threshold of 1 million required for a European Citizens’ Initiative to be valid. ‘End the Cage Age’ is only the sixth Initiative, and the first for farmed animals, to satisfy this requirement. The signatures also outstripped the prescribed minimum thresholds in 18 EU member states. This outstanding civic mobilisation was the result of outreach by a coalition of over 170 NGOs and federations across Europe.
The response of the European Commission, which is preparing a revision of the EU’s animal welfare legislation, is expected during 2021.
Why we need to end the use of cages
The EU has taken some first steps in improving the lives of farmed animals, such as requiring cages for hens to contain ‘enrichment’ like scratching areas and perches, as well as placing certain limits on the time when cages for female pigs (sows) and calves can be used.
However, when animals are concentrated in large numbers in confined spaces, they do not experience a life worth living. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that farmed animals suffer in cages, yet every year in the EU over 300 million still spend all or part of their lives in cages, pens or stalls.
For example, even in ‘enriched’ cages egg-laying hens have only the space of about an A4 sheet of paper, which does not allow them to perform basic needs such as dustbathing and wing-flapping. Rabbits raised for meat have a similarly tiny space and some are unable to even stand with their ears up or lie stretched out. Almost all sows spend half of every year inside crates in which they cannot even turn around.
This confinement causes tremendous suffering. Such treatment is not only inhumane but also unnecessary, as cage-free systems are both viable and in use. Just over half of all EU eggs already come from hens in non-cage systems.
The public overwhelmingly favours improving the welfare of farmed animals. An official Eurobarometer public opinion poll found that 94% of EU citizens believe that protecting the welfare of farm animals is important and 82% think farm animals should be better protected than they are now.
EU countries and companies are leading the change
While the EU has been slow to take action, EU member states and businesses have taken the lead.
Cages for laying hens are, or soon will be, phased out in Austria, Czechia, Germany, Luxembourg and Slovakia. Cages for meat rabbits are banned in Austria and will be in Belgium. Stalls in which sows are confined around the time of their insemination are already illegal in Sweden, will be illegal in Germany and their use will be limited in Denmark. Crates where sows are confined around the birth of their piglets, are illegal in Sweden and their use will be limited in Germany.
A growing number of companies are also moving away from cage systems. Hundreds of the EU’s biggest retailers and brands — including Danone, Nestlé, Aramark, Lidl and Sodexo — have committed to using only cage-free eggs.
What EU institutions are saying
- The European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, has warmly welcomed the success of the Initiative, recognising that animal welfare is a crucial component of the European Green Deal and the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy.
- Czechia is pushing for an EU-level ban on hen cages and has already put this on the agenda of the Council of the EU. Greece and Cyprus have committed to support such a ban.
- 86 Members of the European Parliament urged the European Commission to phase out the use of cages for farmed animals in a letter in October 2020. This action was initiated by an official group of parliamentarians working to promote cage-free farming.
- The European Committee of the Regions supports ending the rearing of birds and animals in cages throughout Europe.
- The European Parliament’s research department has issued a report on the alternatives to caged housing, confirming that a cage-free future is indeed possible (November 2020).
- A leading think-tank, the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), has published a report which finds that a transition to cage-free farming can be a win-win for animals, the environment and small scale farmers (October 2020).
- We have published a report outlining the need to ban caged farming (October 2020) as well as short briefings on rabbits, hens, sows, calves, ducks, geese and quail (August 2020).