Europe must follow Czechia in banning hen cages

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Every year, almost 45 million young male chickens are killed in Germany. Their eggs are unsuitable for the market. New procedures for gender recognition should ensure that they are not even bred. [David Tedevosian/ Shutterstock]

Good news is in short supply these days as Europe battles Covid-19, but there is something to celebrate: breeding millions of egg-laying hens in cages will be banned in the Czech Republic, from 2027, writes Michaela Šojdrová.

Michaela Šojdrová is a Czech Member of European Parliament for the European People’s Party. She is a substitute member of the Agriculture Committee.

The next step must be to move swiftly to ban such cages throughout the EU. Cages are not only cruel — they are also unnecessary as more welfare-friendly alternatives are already in widespread use.

A vote in the upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, taken on Friday (13 November) confirmed the cage ban approved by the lower house in September. The legislation will become law once signed by the Czech President.

Farmers and businesses have seven years to prepare for the ban and adapt, so any financial impact will be minimised.

My party, the Christian Democrats, fully supports the ban. The conditions in which some farmed animals are kept today are simply unacceptable: caged hens have about the same amount of space as an A4 sheet of paper and cannot even flap their wings.

We strongly believe that all animals should be treated with respect to their natural needs. That is why we want to see hen cages banned as soon as possible across the whole of the EU. I warmly welcome the Czech government’s commitment to press for this.

Getting rid of cages is feasible as viable alternatives such as barns, aviaries and outdoor free-range or organic systems are already used widely.

Indeed, Czechia’s ban is not the first. Luxembourg and Austria have already ended the use of hen cages, and Germany and Slovakia plan to do so by 2025 and 2030, respectively.

What is the rest of Europe waiting for?

Increasing numbers of consumers, appalled at the cruelty of caging hens, are refusing to buy battery eggs. The good news is that just over half of the hens on commercial egg farms in the EU today are kept in cage-free systems.

But that still means the other half of commercial hens are caged, and they make up 182 million of the 300 million or more farmed animals confined in cages each year across the EU.

The Czech ban will free from cages around 4.5 million hens a year. Now we must do the same for the millions other caged hens elsewhere in Europe.

It is clear that there is strong public support for this across the EU.

A ‘Eurobarometer’ survey of EU public opinion conducted for the European Commission found that 94% of people believe protecting the welfare of farmed animals is important, and 82% want farmed animals to be better protected.

And last month a European Citizens’ Initiative calling for an end to the use of all cages in animal farming was handed to the Commission, signed by 1.4 million citizens from every member state.

The Commission has already made a welcome commitment to improving animal welfare legislation and making agriculture more sustainable with its recently published ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy to reform the way the EU produces and consumes food.

However, Commission officials have since indicated that their proposals for improving the legislation will not be ready until the end of 2023. This is much too late, and not only in terms of animal welfare.

It may mean there will not be enough time for the European Parliament to consider the proposals before Parliament is dissolved for the next elections in spring 2024. That will delay the final adoption of the legislation even longer.

If we can end the use of cages in Czechia from 2027, I see no reason why the EU cannot work to a similar timetable.

I urge the European Commission to make revising the legislation a priority and to present its proposals as soon as possible, to ban the use of cages at least from 2027.

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