Time to end the cage age

With the European Commission announcing that it will put forward proposals to ‘End the Cage Age’, we spoke to Tilly Metz about the future of animal farming in Europe.
Adobe Stock

By Tilly Metz

Tilly Metz (LU, Greens/EFA) is a member of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee

30 Jun 2021

PM: In a recent resolution, MEPs urged the European Commission to make cages for farmed animals illegal across the EU by 2027. What prompted MEPs to take action on this issue?

TM: The use of cages in farming is the cause of tremendous and unnecessary suffering for millions of animals every year.

Spending substantial amounts of time, or even one’s entire life, in a tiny cage, deprived of even the most basic physiological needs, is not a life; it’s inhumane and cruel. Over the last few years, there has been a growing amount of awareness and mobilisation to end this kind of farming.

The Parliament’s recent resolution acknowledges and supports the ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ initiative (ECI), which gathered a record 1.4 million verified signatures.

With this resolution, the Parliament joined citizens’ call for an end to the use of cages in European farming, with 2027 as a possible phase-out date.

 

PM: If ‘End the Cage Age’ legislation is introduced, what guarantees would EU citizens have that all products placed on the EU market - including imported ones - would comply with cage-free standards?

TM: Consumers have a right to know what they buy, and under which conditions the animal products they are eating, have been produced.

This is why animal welfare NGOs have been campaigning for the mandatory introduction of production labelling for all animal products on the European market, including processed ones.

This would cover, for example, which type of housing system the animal was kept in and whether it had access to an outdoor space.

"Spending substantial amounts of time, or even one’s entire life, in a tiny cage, deprived of even the most basic physiological needs, is not a life; it’s inhumane and cruel. Over the last few years, there has been a growing amount of awareness and mobilisation to end this kind of farming"

Currently, such a labelling system exists for eggs only, and I am personally convinced that it has contributed to the gradual decline in the use of cages for the production of eggs, by enabling consumers to make the more humane choice.

Of course, such labelling systems need to be put in place in tandem with solid certification and controls. When it comes to imported products, the Parliament’s position is very clear: imported products need to comply with the same standards as European ones.

It would bring no benefits to the animals and would prove destructive for our local farmers if we phased out cages here in the EU simply in order to then import products from cage-based systems in third countries.

 

PM: What incentives and financial aid programmes would be made available to help farmers phase out cage systems?

TM: The transition to cage-free farming will only be successful if we provide adequate support for farmers, both financial and advisory.

It is important to acknowledge that there are already funding possibilities for animal welfare measures, including measures to support cage-free farming, in the Rural Development Fund (EAFRD) of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Unfortunately, Member States are currently vastly underusing this possibility, with many dedicating close to zero percent of the EAFRD to such measures.

I hope that the coming CAP will see considerable ring fencing for animal welfare measures, with programmes offering real change to farmers and animals. In the context of the negotiations on the next CAP, there are also discussions as to whether ‘ecoschemes’ (direct payments) could include animal welfare measures and possibly support for a transition away from cages.

Here, one has to be careful, as ecoschemes represent a budget earmarked for climate and environmental measures.

Support originating from this budget for animal welfare measures should only be granted if the measures are compatible with our environmental and climate ambitions, for example a conversion from an intensive, cage-based model to an extensive model with a drastic reduction in stock densities.

 

MEPs also urged the Commission to bring forward proposals to ban the force-feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras. How likely is it that a ban on foie gras could be introduced by the end of this parliamentary term?

I was happy to see that opinions are shifting regarding the cruel production of foie gras.

Unfortunately, even though a majority of Member States have already banned force-feeding of geese and ducks, the cultural backlash from some is currently still too powerful to envision a ban on foie gras, which would of course have to be proposed by the European Commission.

"The transition to cage-free farming will only be successful if we provide adequate support for farmers, both financial and advisory"

There is an easier solution: instead of banning foie gras, let’s adjust the requirement for a minimum weight of the liver instead. The current threshold is almost impossible to reach without force-feeding and should therefore be considerably lowered.

 

MEPs have also called on the Commission to speed up its review of the EU’s animal welfare legislation, asking for this to be completed by 2022 instead of late 2023 as currently planned. Why do MEPs want to bring the review forward?

It has been six years since the last European Strategy for animal welfare ended. As far as many MEPs are concerned, most of the legislation is completely outdated and needs to be updated to bring it in line with the most recent scientific knowledge.

In addition, there are still big gaps in EU animal welfare legislation and Parliament has been calling for the adoption of additional species-specific legislation for years. ‘Il y a du pain sur la planche’, so why wait until the end of this mandate to get started?

Read the most recent articles written by Tilly Metz - Transparency is key to widespread vaccination

Share this page