The European Parliament urged the European Commission to make cages for farmed animals a thing of the past in a resolution adopted on Thursday (10 June), marking a first step towards a ban on cages by 2027.
The resolution, passed by an overwhelming majority, comes as a response to a widely successful citizens initiative, ‘End the Cage Age’, which garnered over 1.4 million signatures from more than 18 member states over the past few months.
MEPs have now asked the EU Commission to come up with legislative proposals to ban caged farming in the EU, possibly already by 2027.
However, they stipulated that before any legislative changes are made, farmers and livestock breeders must be given a sufficiently long transition period and adequate support to make the move to cage-free farming, including a scientific impact assessment.
As it currently stands, a wide range of farming animals, from laying hens to rabbits and pigs, are permitted to be kept in cages across the EU.
As such, Parliament agreed that a gradual end of the use of cages should be based on a species-by-species approach taking into account the characteristics of different animals and ensuring that they all have housing systems to suit their specific needs.
MEPs also argued in favour of more financial support and training, to avoid farmers losing their competitive edge, and stressed the need for existing alternative systems to be further improved and encouraged in each member state, to ensure a level playing field for farmers across the EU.
They also called for assurances that all products placed on the EU market – including imported ones – comply with future cage-free standards.
Green MEP Eleonora Evi, the co-chair of the working group on cage-free farming, said this vote marked a “historical day” in the fight for a cage-free Europe.
“By adopting with a large majority a resolution, the European Parliament brought the EU a step closer to finally ending the cruel practice of caged farming, which every year condemns over 300 million animals to live in a cage,” she said.
Another co-chair of the group, leftist MEP Anja Hazekamp, added that a legislative proposal “must now be put forward without delay”.
“All animal cages in Europe must disappear at the latest by 2027,” she urged.
Commenting on the resolution, Olga Kikou, head of compassion in world farming EU, said she was “delighted” that the European Parliament has taken a firm stance against cages.
“The time has come now for politicians to put words into action. From today on, the ball is in the Commission’s court,” she said, stressing that she expects “nothing short of an ambitious timetable for ending the use of these outdated torture instruments called cages”.
“Once this happens, the EU could truly claim global leadership in animal welfare,” she said
Commission appears favourable
Ahead of the vote, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides expressed support for the initiative, reiterating that the Commission’s commitment to improve the welfare of animals “does remain a moral, a health and an economic imperative.”
“It will be vital to balance our commitment to End the Cage Age with the needs and concerns of farmers. Working together, I am confident that we will be able to deliver the change our citizens expect,” she wrote on Twitter.
Likewise, during a Parliament hearing back in April, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski – who is notoriously vocal on issues of animal welfare – hinted that a proposal to end the use of cages could be in the works.
The Commission is expected to announce what steps it will take at the end of the month.
Outstanding concerns remain
However, a number of concerns remain in the farming community over a ban on cages.
Highlighting that this resolution has “multiple dimensions of a question that is too complex to be reduced to a punch line,” EU farmers association COPA-COGECA said that farmers are “dynamic players that try, within their means and economic realities, to find the best solutions to improve animal welfare”.
Reacting to the vote, COPA-COGECA’s secretary general, Pekka Pesonen, said this parliamentary resolution shows the limits of the initiative.
“Farmers are ready to make more investments but not at the cost of their survival. The response to this initiative will pose major problems of coherence in the European action,” he warned.
The Commission, he added, will have to “demonstrate how we will avoid double standards in our imports but also how we will effectively protect small farmers for which those adaptions will be very sensitive and how we will keep food prices stable”.
Earlier this year, a spokesperson for COPA-COGECA told EURACTIV the sector is “trying to move to cage-free methods of production” but a number of obstacles remain.
For example, the spokesperson pointed out that farmers were still paying off investments made from a ban of conventional cages in layers back in 2012.
However, farmers are also struggling with many other issues beyond their control, such as avian influenza and other environmental factors, where barn and especially free-range production causes “many additional issues,” they pointed out.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]