Today, 3 July 2020, in Berlin, the German upper house approved new controversial rules on the welfare of sows. The weak ambitions of the German Federal agriculture ministry to put its own house in order casts a shadow over the sincerity of its EU-level commitments.
New German rules for sows
In Germany there are approximately 1.9 million sows – almost all of them caged. The majority spend nearly half of every year inside crates, in which they cannot even turn around.
The original amendments to the law, drafted by the German Federal agriculture ministry under Julia Klöckner, came repeatedly under fire by animal welfare activists. The proposal threatened to perpetuate the suffering for pregnant sows, legalising their confinement in such tiny spaces, that sows would not even be able to stretch their legs. The original draft amendments were also criticised for ignoring legal rulings for higher welfare standards.
While the final version of the new German rules is a slight improvement from the original proposal, the fact that the original ambitions were so low casts a shadow on what the German government plans to do at EU-level. Since Wednesday, 1 July 2020, Germany is at the helm of the EU’s rotating presidency and it has promised to spearhead higher animal welfare standards, such as an EU-level label on animal welfare.
“Looking at the debate over the new German standards for sows, we fear that Germany’s leadership of the rotating EU Presidency might cater more to the animal farming industry rather than seriously address the neglected needs of animals or respond to citizens’ expectations,” said Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU.
“The EU is falling behind. Earlier this week, the U.S. state of Colorado passed a law banning all cages for hens, as well as all products with eggs that come from caged hens," Olga continued. "This is more progressive than what we have here in Europe. The EU should not fall behind. It must assert itself as a leader in setting the highest possible standards for the welfare of farmed animals.”
"At present, the German Government seems to have chosen to keep the status quo by paying lip service to the neglected needs of farmed animals," Olga concluded. "If Germany wants the European project to survive, it needs to show true leadership and listen to the calls of European citizens.”
Ending the Cage Age in Europe
EU law unfortunately still permits cages for pregnant and mother sows. There are over 12 million sows in the EU. Altogether, over 300 million hens, sows, rabbits, ducks, quail and calves are imprisoned in cages across the EU.
Since 2018, Compassion in World Farming has been leading a coalition of 170 organisations from across Europe to support the ‘End the Cage Age‘ European Citizens’ Initiative. Over the period of one year, the Initiative collected over 1.6 million signatures from all EU Member States, which is way above the minimum requirements. After verification by Member State authorities, the signatures will be submitted to the EU Commission, which will be legally obliged to decide whether to propose a new law to address the concerns of EU citizens.
For further information about sow stalls, farrowing crates and other systems for caging of farmed animals, please see our report on caged farming in the EU, available in Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish and Spanish.