EU farming body backs MEP calls for impact assessment and import protection measures ahead of EU cage ban

EU farming representatives have urged the European Commission to carry out a full impact assessment before setting a date to ban cages in EU farming.

The warning by Copa-Cogeca follows a comprehensive vote by MEPs to ask the EU Commission to come up with legislative proposals to ban caged farming in the EU, possibly as early as 2027. But the MEPs stressed that an appropriate transition period and a ‘solid scientific impact assessment’ must be pre-requisites of any ban.

In their response to the ‘End the Cage Age’ European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which was supported by almost 1.4 million signatories from across the EU, MEPs adopted the resolution with 558 votes in favour to 37 against, and 85 abstentions.

In line with the conclusions of its Agriculture Committee in a recent vote, the full EU Parliament concluded alternative systems to cages should be further improved and encouraged at member state level, but to ensure a level-playing field for farmers across the EU, EU legislation is needed.

With the future of farrowing crates very much in the spotlight, the MEPs said the gradual end of the use of cages should be based on a species-by-species approach that would take into account the characteristics of different animals and ensure that they all have housing systems that suit their specific needs.

Alongside a sufficient transition period, MEPs agreed that producers must be given adequate support to adapt, including adequate advisory and training services, incentives and financial programmes to prevent farmers ‘losing their competitive edge’ and EU production being  relocated to places where animal welfare standards are lower than in the EU.

They called for all animal products imported into the EU to be produced in full compliance with relevant EU legislation, including the use of cage-free farming systems, and demanded that the Commission and member states focus on putting more effective controls and customs checks in place to ensure that imported agri-food products meet EU animal welfare standards.

They insist existing trade deals should be re-evaluated to ensure that the same animal welfare and product quality standards are met and called on the Commission to promote animal welfare internationally.

Key paradoxes

The vote now puts the spotlight on the Commission, which is expected to officially respond to the petition by the end of this month.

Copa-Cogeca welcomed the European Parliament’s focus in the resolution proposed by Norbert Lins on the problems that will arise in implementing any ban.

The EU farming body stressed that the European livestock sector already offers the ‘highest  standards worldwide regarding  animal welfare’, with farmers trying within their means and economic realities, to find the best solutions to improve animal welfare.

It urges the Commission to take note of the ‘key paradoxes that the public debate ignored’, starting  with the question of imports. Copa-Cogeca noted the Parliament’s concerns that rearing conditions in third countries ‘cannot generally be verified’. But it questions the feasibility of re-evaluating the more than 60 trade agreements already signed in the light of any developments on cage issues.

Copa-Cogeca secretary general Pekka Pesonen  said: “This parliamentary resolution shows the limits of the initiative. Farmers are ready to make more investments but not at the cost of their survival.

“The response to this initiative will pose major problems of coherence in the European  action. The European Commission will have to demonstrate  how we will avoid double  standards in our imports but also how we will effectively protect small farmers for which those adaptions will be very sensitive and how we will keep food prices stable.”

The EU farming body welcomed the European Parliament’s call for a comprehensive and evidence-based impact assessment with enough scientific and solid agronomic foundations, before setting a phasing-out date.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.