Tilly Metz interview: Animal Farm 2.0

A long-time advocate for animal rights, Tilly Metz is working to create a Europe that focuses on less-but-better animal farming and one that faces up to the climate crisis while factoring in sustainability. Lorna Hutchinson reports.
Tilly Metz | Photo credit: Office of Tilly Metz

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

26 May 2021

"Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.” These are two of the principles of Animalism, as painted on the barn wall in a scene from George Orwell’s seminal 1945 novella Animal Farm. In Orwell’s classic, the animals rise up against their human master with the idea of creating an egalitarian society where animals can be happy and free.

The vision of this animal utopia is a far cry from the current lot of an estimated 300 million farmed animals here in the European Union that spend all, or part of their lives, in cages, pens or stalls, often crammed into spaces no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. 

With no voice to advocate for themselves, this is where staunch animal rights defenders such as Tilly Metz come in. The Luxembourg-born Greens/EFA deputy has been a long-time champion of animal rights and as chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT), she now has a clear mandate to investigate the long-distance transportation of animals, which so often leads to their unnecessary suffering.

“A fair and sustainable CAP is one which benefits all citizens, including farmers, and which makes sense environmentally and socially. Some of the original objectives of the CAP are simply outdated and need to be overhauled”

The 30-member ANIT Committee, which began its work in late September last year, was given a twelve-month mandate to probe alleged violations in the application of EU law on the protection of animals during transport and related operations within, and outside, the EU. The Committee focuses on how EU rules are being implemented by Member States and whether the European Commission is enforcing them properly.

Metz says that what has already become clear over the first half of the Committee’s remit is the need for updated rules on animal transport, a harmonised implementation and control system, and full transparency regarding live animal transports, especially long-distance ones.

She explains, “When it comes to live exports, the European Court of Justice has, in the 2015 ‘Zuchtvieh’ case, ruled that there will be no export authorisation if compliance with animal welfare rules is not guaranteed until the final point of destination. We need to ensure a strict application of this ruling.”

She says that another way to avoid unnecessary suffering for animals being transported is to ensure that there is enough local and regional infrastructure in place, and to promote alternatives to live animal transport, such as mobile slaughterhouses or on-field killing.

She says, “I think it is crucial to acknowledge that the huge amount of unreasonably long animal transports is a symptom of our current, unsustainable food systems: supply chains are too long, production models are too industrialised, and we produce too many animal products and then ‘get rid’ of the surplus through trade. Solving the issue of long-distance animal transport, therefore, goes hand-in-hand with reforming the entire food system.”

Metz is a vocal supporter of the ‘End the Cage Age’ campaign, a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) that calls on the EU to phase out the use of cages in animal farming. Campaigners say that the ECI, which has gathered 1.4 million signatures from all across Europe, demonstrates that EU citizens are overwhelmingly in favour of improving the welfare of farmed animals.

Indeed, a recent Eurobarometer poll found that 94 percent of EU citizens believe that protecting the welfare of farm animals is important, while 82 percent think farm animals should be better protected than they currently are.

Asked whether the ECI will be a case where ‘people power’ can truly make a difference for millions of suffering animals, Metz says, “In its Farm to Fork Strategy from May 2020, the European Commission announced a revision of the entire body of EU legislation on animal welfare. The main text that would need to be changed in order to ban or phase out cages - Directive 98/58/EC on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes - is in the package of texts to be revised according to the most recent scientific knowledge. So it is a good moment for ‘the people’ to speak up for big changes. And the people have spoken: the End the Cage Age ECI represents a massive democratic mobilisation, with over 1.4 million verified signatures.”

“Of course, there is resistance to a phasing-out of cages in farming, based on the economic interests of certain sectors and also due to fear of change or of being left behind in the transition. That is why we need to make sure that farmers are properly supported in the transition to cage-free systems. However, despite resistance, there is, above all, real hope. There has never been so much momentum for such a general improvement in the lives of farmed animals; it is a truly historic moment.”

Metz has called for changes to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) plans, saying that the CAP reform as proposed by the Commission is fundamentally incompatible with the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy. She explains, “A fair and sustainable CAP is one that benefits all citizens, including farmers, and which makes sense environmentally and socially. Some of the original objectives of the CAP are simply outdated and need to be overhauled.”

“For example, we do not need to feed the world and deplete our natural resources while doing so; we need to feed Europe with what we can sustainably produce for generations to come. Another example is the ‘always bigger, always more’ mantra; this has already contributed to the disappearance of millions of small farms in Europe. Instead of further supporting the ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality and furthering farmers’ indebtedness, we need to cap payments, ensure a fairer distribution of funds, and help farmers become more resilient and profitable by making sure they receive a fair share of the value of their products, rewarding them for public services rendered and helping them to diversify their incomes. That would be a fair CAP.”  

“The huge amount of unreasonably long animal transports is a symptom of our current, unsustainable food system: supply chains are too long, production models are too industrialised, and we produce too many animal products and then ‘get rid’ of the surplus through trade”

She adds that a sustainable CAP is one that is honest about the current ecological crisis and ambitious about aligning itself with the Green Deal, while taking into account the economic and social dimensions of sustainability. “It would be a CAP that helps farmers transition to more sustainable production methods: from intensive to extensive, from conventional to organic, from animal to plant production - the possibilities are manifold. The new CAP should have been the Just Transition Fund for agriculture, but unfortunately, the now almost-completed reform completely missed that mark.”

Going into more detail on the move away from industrial animal agriculture towards more plant-based diets, Metz says that what she really hopes to see is a general political consensus on the need for “less-but-better animal farming” and, subsequently, a more plant-based society.

She explains, “Science already came to that conclusion over a decade ago; environmental and health organisations have been campaigning on this for years, and a growing number of citizens are changing their diets accordingly. Why are there still so many politicians who refuse to touch this subject, or even outright denounce scientific facts? I hope we can soon agree on real solutions, not just empty words and technological fixes to a fundamentally unsustainable system. The next CAP is likely to do little to nothing to help us move in that direction.”

“On the other hand, the Farm to Fork Strategy recognises the need to address the over-production and consumption of, at least, meat. However, the Strategy stays very vague and non-committal on how to support this shift. We need to address this issue holistically and head on - through changes in subsidisation and taxation policies, promotion programmes, public procurement, rules on advertisement, education and dietary guidelines.”

Turning to the outcome of the recent EU Climate Law negotiations, which saw agreement reached on a net 55 percent emission reductions target for 2030, Metz says she was “very disappointed.” She explains, “The agreement on the Climate Law is not ambitious enough and it is a missed opportunity for the EU to become a global leader on climate action. It is regrettable that the Council blocked the negotiations on the 2030 target and refused to move even an inch towards the Parliament’s position. In reality, the agreed 2030 target equates to only 52.8 percent of direct emissions reductions when excluding carbon sinks.”

“In reality, the agreed 2030 target equates to only 52.8 percent of direct emissions reductions when excluding carbon sinks. This target will clearly not be enough to protect the climate and avoid the worst-case scenarios of climate scientists”

“This target will clearly not be enough to protect the climate and avoid the worst-case scenarios of climate scientists. To remain below 1.5°C, climate action in the next ten years will be crucial. Setting up a greenhouse gas budget for the period after 2030, where little, if any, will be left of the global emission budget to remain under 1.5°C, makes less sense. I hope the Commission will adjust this by proposing ambitious legislation in its ’Fit for 55’ package in July.”

In 2019, Metz was arrested along with two fellow Greens/EFA MEPs after scaling the fence at a Belgian military airbase to protest against its stockpiling of American B61 nuclear bombs. Asked why she feels so strongly on this issue, she says, “I don’t want to live in a European Union with nuclear arms. Everyone seems to have forgotten their presence and, most importantly, their danger. Nevertheless, they do represent a great threat to the public interest and are not in line with the values of our Union.”

She adds, “Following the US withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty in February 2019, I decided to join a direct action protest, which was an act of civil disobedience. About 150 American nuclear weapons were, at this point, thought to be scattered across Europe - in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands - compared with more than 7,000 at the peak of the cold war. With this action we decided to act, to alert the public and put the issue of nuclear disarmament back on the European agenda, demanding the withdrawal of US nuclear bombs stationed in Europe, the ratification of the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by all EU Member States and the creation of a nuclear weapon-free zone for Europe.”

A member of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Metz has spoken about the need for more EU action on rare diseases, saying there is an urgent need to raise awareness on this issue, especially for children. She explains that a rare disease affects less than one in 2,000 cases, but that there are over 6,000 different rare diseases and currently, 30 million people are estimated to have a rare disease in Europe.

“The diagnosis often takes time and treatments are difficult to access. For children and their parents this can be a real obstacle course to navigate and many go through a tremendously hard time because of the lack of a clear diagnosis, so they don’t know what disease they are fighting, what they can do and what treatments exist to overcome it. Therefore, it is important for me that these young patients and their families receive as much help as possible. It is crucial that they get the support, treatments and care, and adequate assistance to find the right cures for their disease.”

She adds, “Such particularly rare diseases must become a priority of European and national health policies and we must commit to investing in research, both specifically on rare diseases and specifically on treatments for children, as often medications manufactured for adults are not appropriate for children. It is especially important to combine and coordinate the efforts of EU Member States, for example through European centres of excellence and the European Reference Networks. Only a European approach can move us forward in this field.”

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