Campaigners to step up efforts to ban use of cages for farmed animals

Renewed calls for a ban will come when Parliament holds a hearing on the ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ Initiative.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Apr 2021

A campaign group will present the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to MEPs, three EU Commissioners and other representatives of the EU institutions.

The Commission will then have three months to finally announce whether or not it will follow up with a legislative proposal to ban the use of cages for farmed animals.

Aleksandra Terzieva, public affairs advisor to Compassion in World Farming, said that the EU has been slow to take action.

Citing the 1.4m signatures gathered from all across Europe, she said “this shows that the welfare of farmed animals is a shared concern for citizens.”

The number of signatures, verified by national civil servants, easily exceeds the threshold of 1 million required for an ECI to be valid.

‘End the Cage Age’ is only the sixth Initiative, and the first for farmed animals, to satisfy this requirement. The signatures also outstripped the prescribed minimum thresholds in 18 EU Member States.

“This outstanding civic mobilisation was the result of outreach by a coalition of 170 groups across Europe,” said Terzieva.

The EU has taken some first steps in improving the lives of farmed animals, such as requiring cages for hens to contain ‘enrichment’ like scratching areas and perches, as well as placing certain limits on the time when cages for female pigs and calves can be used.

“This confinement causes tremendous suffering. Such treatment is not only inhumane but also unnecessary as cage-free systems are both viable and in use … The public overwhelmingly favours improving the welfare of farmed animals” Aleksandra Terzieva, Compassion in World Farming

“However, when animals are concentrated in large numbers in confined spaces, they do not experience a life worth living. There is a great deal of evidence that farmed animals suffer in cages, yet every year in the EU over 300 million still spend all or part of their lives in cages, pens or stalls,” she said.

“For example, even in ‘enriched’ cages egg-laying hens have only the space of about an A4 sheet of paper, which does not allow them to perform basic needs such as dustbathing and wing-flapping.”

“Rabbits raised for meat have a similarly tiny space and some are unable to stretch up or out fully and generally do not have enough space to perform a single hop. Almost all adult female pigs spend nearly half of every year inside crates, in which they cannot even turn around.”

She adds, “This confinement causes tremendous suffering. Such treatment is not only inhumane but also unnecessary as cage-free systems are both viable and in use. Now the majority of hens kept commercially in the EU are farmed in alternative systems, whether barn, free range or organic.”

“The public overwhelmingly favours improving the welfare of farmed animals.”

She points to an official Eurobarometer poll which found that 94 percent of EU citizens believe that protecting the welfare of farm animals is important and 82 percent think farm animals should be better protected than they are now.

“When animals are concentrated in large numbers in confined spaces, they do not experience a life worth living. There is a great deal of evidence that farmed animals suffer in cages, yet every year in the EU over 300 million still spend all or part of their lives in cages, pens or stalls”

Aleksandra Terzieva, Compassion in World Farming

“While the EU has been slow to take action, EU Member States have taken the lead. Cages for laying hens are, or soon will be, phased out in Austria, Czechia, Germany, Luxembourg and Slovakia. Cages for meat rabbits are banned in Austria and will be in Belgium.”

“Crates in which sows are confined around the time of their insemination are already illegal in Sweden, [this] will be illegal in Germany and their use will be limited in Denmark. Crates where sows are confined around the birth of their piglets, are illegal in Sweden and their use will be limited in Germany.”

Some 86 MEPs have already urged the Commission to phase out the use of cages for farmed animals in a letter in October 2020. This action was initiated by a group of parliamentarians working to promote cage-free farming.

European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, has also welcomed the success of the Initiative, recognising that animal welfare is a crucial component of the European Green Deal and the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy.

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