Representatives of member states have endorsed the European Commission’s ambition to phase out cage rearing in the EU, but showed far less enthusiasm than the European Parliament and expressed concerns about the timeline of the initiative and the appropriate financial support for farmers.
On Monday (19 July), the Commission presented to the monthly gathering of EU-27 farming ministers its recently announced commitment to working towards a ban on cages for farmed animals.
The forthcoming legislative initiative was described by the food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides as a landmark moment for the European Union and will follow the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “End the Cage Age”, which gathered 1.4 million signatures calling for a transition to a cage-free farming system.
Kyriakides told the ministers that the EU executive is only at the beginning of the whole process but with the clear objective to phase out cages for all animals mentioned in the ECI – hens, rabbits, geese, ducks, female pigs and calves – and not just the ones covered by the current legislation.
The proposal for a ban on cages for farmed animals is scheduled for the end of 2023 and will be part of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation under the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F).
Kyriakides reassured the agriculture ministers that key stakeholders will be consulted in the next months and a thorough impact assessment will be delivered.
Slovenia’s agriculture minister and current president of the AGRIFISH Council, Jože Podgoršek, summed up the exchange between the Commission and the member states by saying the initiative needs to be accompanied by an analytical approach to take into account their impact assessment.
“Scientific evidence is of prime importance. Some investment will be needed, as well as more research, which needs to be translated into actual husbandry practices,” he said.
Although EU-27 ministers expressed support for the initiative, they highlighted the need for financial support to accompany the new legislation.
“We believe [the initiative] is something desirable. However, in order to do this, we need to make sure that we don’t have financial repercussions undermining the viability of our livestock breeders,” said the Polish representative.
According to the Estonian delegate, the ban on cages in farming will require farmers to disburse a significant outflow of resources that can take between 20 or 30 years to return the initial investment.
Finland also suggested providing financial incentives, not only through the EU’s traditional farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but in line with state aid guidelines so that all the EU countries are treated equally.
Several delegations stressed that the forthcoming impact assessment should also take into account differences among member states in livestock farming, as well as producers’ competitiveness in third countries.
“We should guarantee maximum reciprocity to ensure that our producers are not penalized by the inputs from third countries that have much lower levels of animal welfare,” the Italian delegate added.
Lithuania asked to consider realistic deadlines for the implementation of the new requirements while Belgium pointed out that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would be difficult to put into practice as there are differences among animal species and even geographic specificities.
In a bid to assuage those concerns, Commissioner Kyriakides said there will be a reasonable transition period for farmers, who will be also supported by financial schemes available in the CAP.
The Commission, she added, will also reflect on some measures for imported food and examine all options to ensure a fair and equitable approach for farmers.
However, compared to the extremely positive reception by the European Parliament, the end of cage age proposal received only a lukewarm reaction from the EU Council representing the member states.
Asked by EURACTIV if she sees a difference in how the initiative has been received by the two EU lawmaking bodies, Kyriakides said she was very pleased that MEPs have such a high level of ambition in all areas to do with animal welfare.
“I can understand that there are justifiable concerns [among member states] but I’m also confident that from what I saw today and heard today, almost all member states were also supportive,” she told a press conference.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]