Last week, the European Commission decided to positively respond to the European Citizens' Initiative “End the Cage Age”. In its reply, the Commission sets out plans for a legislative proposal by 2023 to prohibit cages for a number of farm animals.
This Citizens' Initiative reflects a demand for a transition to more ethical and sustainable farming systems, including a revision of existing EU animal welfare rules. Responding to this societal demand is a high priority for the Commission, in line with its commitments in the Farm to Fork Strategy and the European Green Deal. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union defines animals as sentient beings. As a major importer of food, the EU has a moral responsibility to ensure that on-farm conditions for animals reflect its principles, including in respect of the food that it imports.
Phasing out cage systems
The phasing-out of cages started 22 years ago, when new legislation for the rearing of laying hens entered into force. Scientific analysis supported the benefits of this approach for other species such as calves and pigs, for which partial prohibitions were introduced in 1997 and 2001 respectively. In its response to the European Citizens' Initiative, the Commission commits to table, by the end of 2023, a legislative proposal to phase out, and finally prohibit, the use of cage systems for all animals mentioned in the Initiative. In particular, the Commission's proposal will concern:
- Animals already covered by legislation: laying hens, sows and calves;
- Other animals mentioned in the European Citizens' Initiative: rabbits, pullets, layer breeders, broiler breeders, quail, ducks and geese. For these animals, the Commission has already asked EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) to complement the existing scientific evidence to determine the conditions needed for the prohibition of cages.
The proposal will come as part of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation under the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Since an end of the use of cages will require changes to current farming systems, the Commission will consider the socio-economic and environmental implications of the measures to be taken and the benefits to animal welfare in an impact assessment to be completed before the end of 2022. In this context, a public consultation will be carried out at the latest by early 2022. The Commission will assess the feasibility of working towards the proposed legislation entering into force from 2027.
Introphoto (©WUR): Call on ban on farrowing crates for sows