This week, MEPs debated a citizens’ initiative to ban the use of caged farming in the EU.

The public hearing was organised jointly by the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Petitions Committees on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) ‘End the Cage Age’, which has been welcomed and supported by Agriculture Committee chair Norbert Lins.

“Animal welfare can be improved in the EU,” he said.

“It is of utmost importance that before planning any radical shift [to fully cage-free housing], we need to analyse the cost of such a change [and] think about providing sufficient financial support, compensation or other incentives to the farmers.”

The ECI allows one million citizens from at least a quarter of EU member states to ask the European Commission to propose legislation in areas that fall within its competence.

The EU invites organisers of successful initiatives to present their initiative at a public hearing in the European Parliament, to the committee responsible for the subject matter.

First valid ECI for farmed animal welfare

The ‘End the Cage Age‘ ECI is the sixth to succeed among 76 registered initiatives in the last eight years.

“It represents the third-highest number of signatures ever collected and the first valid ECI for farmed animal welfare,” Petitions Committee chair Dolors Montserrat said.

“It has been submitted at a time where intensive animal husbandry is seeing greater public scrutiny and it demands that the EU make more [policy] changes.”

After the introductory statements, the ECI organisers presented the initiative’s objectives, specifically to end the use of cages for a number of species, including: laying hens; rabbits; pullets; quail; ducks and geese; sows in sow stalls; and farrowing crates and individual calf pens.

“Instead of using cages, we call on the EU to move to alternative systems, which are already in existence – such as barns, organic systems, free-range or free-farrowing,” organiser Olga Kikou said.

She stressed that farmers need to be provided with financial support to transition to cage-free farming and that imported products from non-EU countries must also meet EU animal welfare standards.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted that animal welfare concerns “lie at the heart of the EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy”.

“We are very much aware that we need to do more,” she added, pointing to the fitness check being carried out on existing EU animal welfare legislation.

“We will use the results of [this] check to propose new legislation by 2023.”

Phase out of caged farming requires support

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has called for more EU farm policy funding to be used to improve animal welfare and said that “our trade partners accept the same or equivalent standards”.

MEPs highlighted the importance of listening and acting on citizens’ concerns on animal welfare.

However, any potential phase out of caged farming requires proper financial support, incentives and an adequate transition period, many insisted.

They called for strict and efficient measures to avoid imports of cheaper products with lower animal welfare standards from non-EU countries. Some also called for a proper impact assessment and insisted on EU legislative action.

‘Reallocate agricultural funds away from cages’

75% of citizens in Ireland want the EU to “reallocate agricultural funds away from cages“, according to a survey.

Late last year, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) released the results of a survey, conducted by data company YouGov, that explores EU citizens’ attitudes towards the use of cages in animal farming across the EU.

75% of citizens in Ireland feel that the EU should reallocate current agricultural funds to support a transition away from using cages in animal farming. 80% of citizens in Ireland feel that using cages in farming is cruel.