Support for banning intensive farming grows despite cost of animal welfare

"Scientific research shows that cages have severe disadvantages for animal welfare," 140 scientists wrote in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, pointing out that "better ways of farming exist." [Sébastien Arsac/L214]

As a survey conducted by the L214 association published this week points to the suffering of animals in intensive farming, the ‘End the Cage Age’ initiative put forward by EU citizens is demanding to end the practice of caging animals. EURACTIV France reports.

Images of sick and dead chickens crammed together in cages published by L214 on Wednesday (7 April) leave little room for doubt about what is happening. The animal rights organisation is calling for the intensive breeding of animals to be stopped in France, Europe, and the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) France has already gathered more than 1.6 million signatures for its “End the Cage Age” initiative from EU citizens between 2018 and 2020, which will be debated in the European Parliament next week.

According to the organisations behind the campaign “300 million animals are suffering in cages across Europe. It is cruel, unnecessary, and has no place in Europe.” It is, however, a “nightmare that we can end,” they added.

‘Better ways of farming exist’

NGOs are not alone in pushing for an end to intensive farming across Europe.

A letter signed by over 140 scientists sent to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in February, urged her to put an end to cage farming in the EU. “Scientific research shows that cages have severe disadvantages for animal welfare,” they wrote in the letter, pointing out that “better ways of farming exist.”

Some of Europe’s major food companies shared the same concerns in a letter to the Commission in March, in which they called for an end cage farming.

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Germany is considering ways to fund an increased ambition in animal welfare standards, including a new levy on animal welfare, which has raised eyebrows among German farmers who are concerned they will be exposed to unfair competition. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Most consumers not willing to pay more

However, France’s broiler industry association, ANVOL, is looking at the situation from a different angle, wondering whether “consumers are ready to pay more for their chicken?” French farmers would be willing to produce at higher standards but this would come at a cost, ANVOL’s Anne Richard told EURACTIV.

For instance, the production costs for free-range chickens would double, Richard explained. This is the price consumers would have to pay for more animal welfare, she added.

“More than 40% of the chicken consumed in France” is imported because it is cheaper, said Richard.

Consumers need a guarantee

According to animal rights activists, this argument does not hold much water.

“The majority of consumers would be ready to pay more if they had the guarantee” that production really respected high standards, CIWF France’s public affairs officer Agathe Gignoux told EURACTIV. Harmonised labelling on all animal products, including on production methods and animal welfare, would be “essential” to accompany consumers and “enable them to make better choices,” she added.

It would also be wrong to make consumers believe that animal products produced using intensive farming methods are cheaper.

“The real cost of these products is to the environment, our health, and animal welfare”, Gignoux explained.

Six million fewer chickens slaughtered weekly in EU after Mercosur pact

The EU poultry meat sector was sacrificed in order to convince Brazil to seal the Mercosur trade agreement. But the impact on the sector in Europe is expected to be very heavy, the association of poultry processors told EURACTIV.com.

Raising awareness on meat overconsumption

According to L214 co-founder and director of investigations Sébastian Arsac, the right solution would be to have a “policy that favours the vegetalisation of our food” and that commits to bringing our consumption of animal products “back to the world average,”

“We need to get away from intensive farming and become aware of our overconsumption of meat,” he explained. While the consumption of daily protein from animals is at 38% globally, the daily protein intake in European countries is 58%, according to figures from viande.info.

At EU level, some have also shown some willingness to bring about change.

EPP MEP and member of the Parliament’s agriculture and rural development committee, Herbert Dorfmann, has said that his group is in favour of phasing out cage-farming. Dorfmann is organising a public hearing for the “End the Cage Age” campaign next week.

However, “if we raise the standards in Europe, we should also make sure that imported products are subject to them as well,” the MEP told EURACTIV, adding that European producers should not be exposed to unbeatable price competition from countries with lower standards on animal welfare, health, and environmental criteria than the EU.

UK moves to ban live exports of animals but EU ban 'far off', says MEP

As the UK prepares to ban the live export of animals, the debate over the practice is also gaining traction in the EU, although the bloc is unlikely to follow suit any time soon, according to MEP Tilly Metz.

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