“1.4 million EU citizens supported the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age’ and we listened.”
These were the words of the European Commission as it announced on Wednesday that it had decided to positively respond to the ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) and change the lives of more than 300 million farm animals in the EU.
The Commission said it plans for a legislative proposal by 2023 to prohibit cages for a number of farm animals and will assess the feasibility of working towards the proposed legislation entering into force from 2027.
The proposal will come as part of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation under the executive’s Farm to Fork Strategy.
The Commission said that the ECI “reflects a demand for a transition to more ethical and sustainable farming systems, including a revision of existing EU animal welfare rules.”
The Commission's proposal will not only concern animals already covered by legislation - laying hens, sows and calves – but also other animals mentioned in the ECI: rabbits, pullets, layer breeders, broiler breeders, quail, ducks and geese.
As far as farmers are concerned, the executive said that the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will provide financial support and incentives – such as the new eco-schemes instrument – to help farmers upgrade to more animal-friendly facilities in line with the new standards.
“This is a major success for animals and citizens. Now we need to start working on the assessment of this measure and most of all we need a clear end date” Tilly Metz, chair of ANIT Committee
Additionally, Member States can draw from the Just Transition Fund and Recovery and Resilience Facility to support farmers in the adaptation to cage-free systems.
The Commission explained that since an end of the use of cages will require changes to current farming systems, it will consider the socio-economic and environmental implications of the measures to be taken and the benefits to animal welfare in an impact assessment to be completed before the end of 2022.
Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said, “Animals are sentient beings and we have a moral, societal responsibility to ensure that on-farm conditions for animals reflect this.”
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said that a sustainable food system cannot exist without high animal welfare standards.
He added, “The Green Deal and its Farm to Fork Strategy, supported by the new Common Agricultural Policy, will be crucial in the transition to sustainable food systems. This Citizens’ Initiative only confirms that this transition also responds to a societal demand for more ethical and sustainable farming.”
MEP reaction to the news was swift, with Greens/EFA deputy and chair of Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT), Tilly Metz, saying, “A historic day for farmed animals! I welcome the Commission’s announcement of a legislative proposal by 2023 to End the Cage Age.”
Metz called the news “a major success for animals and citizens,” adding, “now we need to start working on the assessment of this measure and most of all we need a clear end date.”
“Animals are sentient beings and we have a moral, societal responsibility to ensure that on-farm conditions for animals reflect this”
Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
Fellow Greens/EFA MEP Thomas Waitz said, “Caging will soon be a thing of the past - it is high time to end the ordeal for millions of animals across the EU,” while Belgian colleague Sara Mathieu called the Commission’s announcement “direct European democracy in action and a great step forward for animal welfare in agriculture.”
Portuguese colleague Francisco Guerreiro commented that Commissioner Stella Kyriakides was “on the right side of history”, adding that it was “a great day for animals.”
Greens Italian member Eleonora Evi warned, “We will now make sure that the Commission lives up to expectations in ensuring a phase-out of the use of cages by 2027.”
French S&D member Eric Andrieu said, “After our vote [in the European Parliament] last month against cage farming, the European Commission is promising a legislative proposal before 2023.”
“This is good news for animal welfare and for the 1.4 million citizens who signed the Citizens’ Initiative behind the project.”
This sentiment was echoed by French The Left MEP Manuel Bompard, who said that the Parliament was proud to have supported the ‘End the Cage Age’ ECI, adding, “We remain mobilised for the improvement of the condition of animals.”
Danish The Left colleague Nikolaj Villumsen expressed his “huge thanks to all of you who signed up for the Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age’. Today's victory is yours and the animals’.”
Belgian Renew Europe deputy Hilde Vautmans welcomed the news, saying it was an “important day for EU animal welfare”, but cautioned, “To reach a balanced and economically viable transition, the proposal must be based on an impact assessment and accompanied with financial support to help farmers.”
French Renew Europe colleague Pascal Durand said, “What a great victory for the animals and what a great example of a democracy that progresses thanks to the joint mobilisation of 1.4 million European citizens, NGOs and the European Parliament.”
Civil society was also buoyed by the Commission’s announcement, with EESC President Christa Schweng saying she was “happy to see another Citizens’ Initiative make an impact on EU policy-making. End the Cage Age has received a positive reply from the Commission. Looking forward to working on the legislative proposal that will follow.”
“Today, the European Commission made a big step to leave a legacy for animals - those locked in cages as innocent prisoners who have committed no crime. Citizens demanded change and the Commission heard the message loud and clear” Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU
In the NGO world, the news was also warmly welcomed.
Olga Kikou, head of Compassion in World Farming EU, said, “It feels like one of these moments in history when the tide is turning. The animal advocacy movement succeeded in rattling the cage and planting the seeds of a new era.”
She went on, “Today, the European Commission made a big step to leave a legacy for animals – those locked in cages as innocent prisoners who have committed no crime. Citizens demanded change and the Commission heard the message loud and clear, making an unequivocal and visionary commitment to phase out cages.”
She warned, though, “We will stay focused on the European institutions until they deliver on this ambition and will be vigilant in preventing vested interests from watering it down.”
Eurogroup for Animals thanked the Commission for listening to the 1.4 million EU citizens “who
raised their voice for the over 300 million farmed caged animals in the EU.”
GAIA President Michel Vandenbosch said, “Today is a momentous day for animal welfare. The importance of the European Commission's decision cannot be underestimated. It is the start of a major turning point in the lives of hundreds of millions of animals in the EU.”
“The abolition of cage systems is a big step towards ending intensive/industrial farming in the EU. We will of course remain vigilant as long as the Commission does not walk the talk. Vigilance is also necessary to ensure that vested interests do not interfere with the situation and undermine the entire operation.”