Three members of the European Commission have reacted positively to a public petition requesting the phase-out of cage rearing in the EU, expressing support to the initiative.
On Thursday (15 April), promoters of the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) “End of cage age” presented the campaign before European lawmakers at a joint public hearing of the European Parliament’s petition (PETI) and agriculture (AGRI) committees.
Citizen initiatives allow petitions that reach the one million signatures threshold to be discussed by the European Commission, which can decide to put forward a legislative proposal on the matter.
With 1.4 million signatures from more than 18 member states, campaigners for the “End of cage age” met the requirements and are now waiting for the Commission’s response.
During the public hearing, agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski appeared to be the most enthusiastic, promising campaigners “to work intensively” to put the initiative into legislation: “The European Commission truly wants to improve animal welfare. And I personally care about this,” he added.
In a tweet after the hearing, the Pole confirmed that the Commission will look to adopt in early June a communication that will spell out proposed actions in response to the ECI.
So far, six ECI have been registered, one of them being taken into account in the recent revision of the Drinking Water Directive (DWD) and becoming the first citizen-led EU law.
A European issue
Food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and Commission vice-president Věra Jourová were also supportive.
Kyriakides praised the hard work, dedication and determination of over 170 organisations that have joined forces to make the initiative fly, adding that the success of such initiatives prove that direct democracy is alive in Europe.
She said that in recent months support for the cage rearing ban had come from scientists, farmers, the food industry and students, as well as from lawmakers in the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions.
“All in all, your success shows that cage farming is an issue that many Europeans from many different walks of life care deeply about,” she concluded.
“The Commission attaches the highest importance to ideas submitted by other European citizens initiative instrument, and that it takes all successful initiatives very seriously,” added Jourová.
According to Wojciechowski, the EU is a leading light on animal welfare insisting with trade partners to accept the same or equivalent standards as the one in force in the EU.
He mentioned a recent talk he had with Ukraine’s trade minister, who told him that the neighbour country is going to implement EU animal welfare standards because they want to be a reliable trade partner.
At the same time, Wojciechowski stressed the importance of ensuring that the end of caged livestock production is feasible for farmers.
Wojciechowski anticipated that in the ongoing discussions on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, EU lawmakers are likely to admit animal welfare as an eco-scheme, meaning that farmers putting in practice animal welfare initiatives might receive EU subsidies.
“This is money for investment because you have to invest if you want to improve animal welfare implementing alternative methods,” he said.
“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,” said Olga Kikou, a leading campaigner from the NGO Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).
She mentioned a number of pioneering member states and businesses that have led the way in ditching cages and that it is time for the EU to catch up.
A law that will ban cages for hens by 2027 has been already approved in the Czech Republic.
Asked if this kind of timeframe could be achievable at the EU level, a source in the EU farmers lobby Copa-Cogeca said that a 2027 deadline is too short.
“We need to keep in mind that the sector did enormous investments in 2012 and we need to have at least 20 years to pay them off,” they said.
In a recent opinion, the livestock industry criticised the initiative as an oversimplification that will have serious consequences for the health and welfare of animals.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]