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EU Parliament hearing shows overwhelming support for a ban on cages for farmed animals

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News Section Icon Published 15/04/2021

A citizens’ campaign to end caged farming received overwhelming support today by representatives of key EU institutions during a hearing in the run up to an official European Commission response to the issue.

It is high time the European Union ended the cruel practice of imprisoning hundreds of millions of farmed animals in cages each year, EU institutions heard this morning during a three-hour public hearing on the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age’, which was signed by 1.4 million people across all EU member states.

You can watch the recording of the hearing here.

Overwhelming support

The ‘End the Cage Age’ Initiative was warmly welcomed by the three European Commissioners present during the debate and dozens of Members of the European Parliament, who made interventions.

Norbert Lins, Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (Group of the European People's Party, Germany) concluded that "most speakers welcomed this initiative" and noted that "the ball is now in the Commission's court."

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MEPs Evi, Hazekamp, Waitz, Bompard and Šojdrová

This is a big moment for the ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ Initiative, whose culmination is expected in the next few months when the European Commission will give its formal response to the citizens’ call.

The Initiative calls on the EU to phase out the use of cages in animal farming. Cages restrict farmed animals’ ability to move by confining them to small spaces, preventing them from exercising important natural behaviours such as wing-flapping or stretching out.

“We are taking steps to tangible action because, as I have repeatedly stated, animal welfare and animal health are very high on our agenda,” noted Stella Kyriakides, Health and Food Safety Commissioner, adding: “We are very much aware that we need to do more, and we need to strive for better. And we are absolutely determined to do so. The European Citizens’ Initiative is a timely reminder of that. It is a heartful example also at democracy at its best.”

“You have my full support — full support from the European Commission to implement this transformation,” stated Janusz Wojciechowski, Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner. “The Commission promises you to work intensively to put this into legislation,” he added.

MEP reactions

"Today’s public hearing marked another fundamental step towards the objective of a cage-free Europe," said MEP Eleonora Evi, Vice-President of the Animal Welfare Intergroup and co-chair of its cage-free working group. "Together with many like-minded MEPs, we gave a voice to the over 300 million animals that every year, in the EU alone, spend all, or a significant part, of their lives imprisoned in cages. The enormous support received by this European Citizens’ Initiative throughout Europe cannot be ignored by the European Commission, which needs to come forward with a legislative proposal to end the unnecessary cruelty of caged farming as soon as possible, bringing EU farming practices closer to our citizens’ expectations and more aligned with nature and the protection of public health."

MEP Anja Hazekamp, President of the Animal Welfare Intergroup and co-chair of its cage-free working group, stated: “Hundreds of millions of animals in Europe are locked up in cages for farming purposes. These animals have no chance to exercise their natural behaviours and the conditions in which these animals are kept are so bad that their lives become one big agony. Cages are cruel, but also outdated and unnecessary. It’s a milestone that more than 1.4 million citizens have stood up for these animals to put an end to the 'cage-age'. We are now looking at the European Commission and the Member States to prove that they take their call seriously, and that they take the European Citizens’ Initiative as a democratic instrument seriously. A legislative proposal to ban the use of cages in agriculture must be put forward without delay.”

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.

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Crates for pregnant pigs
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'Enriched' cages for hens

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 stretch up or out fully and generally do not have enough space to perform a single hop. Almost all adult female pigs spend nearly half of every year inside crates, in which they cannot even turn around.

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.

"EU law for farmed animals is incredibly outdated," commented Bo Algers, veterinarian and professor emeritus at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. "Since 1998, when the EU adopted its Directive on the protection of farmed animals, the output from the animal welfare science has on average been tenfold. Today, we have a much better understanding of how physical, physiological and psychological factors relate to animal welfare. A wide range of species-specific ethological needs are not, or cannot be, provided in a cage, whether enriched or not. It is now crystal clear that cages, due to their inherent physical and behavioural restriction, cannot provide good welfare, no matter how good the management.”

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Cages for calves
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Cages for rabbits

This confinement causes tremendous suffering. Such treatment is not only inhumane but also unnecessary, as cage-free systems are both viable and in use.

"I grew up on my parents' intensive poultry farm, which ended up going bankrupt in 2007," admitted Ruud Zanders, co-founder of the high animal-welfare poultry farm Kipster. "This made me rethink the model of production we were using. With Kipster, we set off to create the most animal, environment and people friendly poultry farm on this planet. It turned out to be a golden egg for us, as our business is both profitable and scalable. We do not only want to respond to consumer demands but anticipate change and even set an example in the world that better ways of farming are possible.”

1.4 million citizens unite against cages

Schuman Square, October 2019
Schuman Square, October 2019

The ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens' Initiative was signed by 1.4 million people across Europe and is only the sixth successful Initiative since the EU launched this democracy tool ten years ago. It is the very first successful Initiative for farmed animals.

The Initiative is also supported by over 170 organisations, a group of cross-party Members of the European Parliament, the European Committee of the Regions, a group of over 140 scientists and representatives of the business community.

We need to end this medieval practice

“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," commented Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU and one of the citizens leading the ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ Initiative.

"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," she added. "A number of pioneering member states and businesses have led the way in ditching cages and now it is time for the rest of the EU to catch up. In line with the ambitions of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy, we call on the European Commission to propose a phaseout of cages in farming through a revision of the 1998 Directive on the protection of farmed animals.”

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