MEPs have called for the European Commission to introduce new legislation paving the way for a ban on the use of cages in EU farming, possibly by 2027.
In their response on Friday to the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) ‘End the Cage Age’, MEPs on the EU Parliament’s Agriculture Committee called on the Commission to come up with a draft EU law on fair and sustainable farming and to propose a revision of existing EU rules on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes.
These changes would phase out the use of cages, including farrowing crates, after ‘an appropriate transition period and a solid, scientific impact assessment, possibly by 2027’ – although the timing of any ban is certain to be the subject of intense negotiation.
The draft resolution was approved in the Agriculture Committee by 39 votes in favour to four against, with three abstentions, and will now have to be scrutinised by the Parliament as a whole, probably during the June 7-10 plenary session.
The MEPs said alternatives to cage farming exist and are being successfully implemented in a number of member states. These alternative systems should be further improved and encouraged at national level, but to ensure a level-playing field for farmers across the European Union, EU legislation is needed, they added.
However, they have stressed that the gradual end of caged farming 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.
As well as ensuring sufficient time to make the transition, the MEPs insist ‘proper support’, including adequate advisory and training services, incentives and financial programmes for farmers and livestock breeders must be agreed before making any legislative changes.
“This would prevent farmers losing their competitive edge and EU production being consequently relocated abroad, where animal welfare standards are lower than in the EU,” the Agriculture Committee said.
The MEPs also called for strict measures to avoid imports of cheaper products with lower animal welfare standards from non-EU countries, with some calling for a proper impact assessment and EU legislative action.
They want all animal products imported into the EU to be produced in full compliance with the relevant EU legislation and are insisting that existing trade deals should be re-evaluated to ensure that the same animal welfare and product quality standards are met.
During a public hearing in the European Parliament on the End the Cage Age ECI in April, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski indicated his intention ‘to work intensively’ to implement the goals of the campaign. He promised an ‘appropriate’ transition and support for producers to help them adapt.
However, if there is to be a ban on farrowing crates, EU farming body Copa-Cogeca will push for a much longer transition than the 2027 date proposed in the campaign.
Defra recently confirmed it is considering reforms in areas such as the use of farrowing crates, as it launched its new Animal Welfare Action Plan.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “This highlights that the pressure to phase out farrowing crates is not just coming the UK. An EU-wide ban now looks inevitable, but the 2027 date, which has been proposed by welfare groups, needs to be taken with a massive pinch of salt.
“That is clearly not ‘gradual phasing’. Given our initial assessment of the sheer scale of the work required just for the UK alone, 2027 is a completely unrealistic target date, which would effectively wipe out EU pig production. We, and our EU farming colleagues at COPA, believe that in order to allow a sensible transition, we need to be looking at more like 30 years.
“As far as the UK is concerned, our position is that UK does not need a ban and that a voluntary transition would be far less destructive.
“However, if we do end up with some kind of a ban, either of new crates or new and existing ones, then we must have a sensible transition period and, as proposed at EU level, comprehensive support for producers to help manage that transition. It will also be absolutely critical that some form of temporary crating is permitted to ensure piglet survival.
“In addition, we would need measures, possibly legislative, to ensure the same standards apply to imports.”
End the Cage Age ECI
The End the Cage Age, registered in September 2018. has gathered support from almost 1.4 million signatories from across the EU.
The initiative calls on the Commission to ‘end (…) inhumane treatment’ of ‘hundreds of millions of EU farm animals (…) kept in cages for most of their lives’ and for an EU law to ban the use of: cages for laying hens, rabbits, pullets, broiler breeders, layer breeders, quail, ducks and geese; farrowing crates for sows; sow stalls, where not already prohibited; and individual calf pens, where not already prohibited.