European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission to propose phasing out of cages for farm animals

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Today, the Commission decided to positively respond to the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “End the Cage Age”, the sixth successful initiative supported by over 1 million citizens across the EU. In its reply, the Commission sets out plans for a legislative proposal by 2023 to prohibit cages for a number of farm animals. The proposal will come as part of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation under the Farm to Fork Strategy.

This Citizens’ Initiative reflects a demand for a transition to more ethical and sustainable farming systems, including a revision of existing EU animal welfare rules. Responding to this societal demand is a high priority for the Commission, in line with its commitments in the Farm to Fork Strategy and the European Green Deal.

Commission’s reply to the ECI

While all farm animals benefit from current legislation on the protection of animals, only laying hens, broilers, sows and calves are covered by rules on caging. In its response to the ECI, the Commission commits to table, by the end of 2023, a legislative proposal to phase out, and finally prohibit, the use of cage systems for all animals mentioned in the Initiative.

In particular, the Commission’s proposal will concern:

  • Animals already covered by legislation: laying hens, sows and calves;
  • Other animals mentioned in the ECI: rabbits, pullets, layer breeders, broiler breeders, quail, ducks and geese. For these animals, the Commission has already asked EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) to complement the existing scientific evidence to determine the conditions needed for the prohibition of cages.

As part of its Farm to Fork Strategy, the Commission has already committed to propose a revision of the animal welfare legislation, including on transport and rearing, which is currently undergoing a fitness check, to be finalised by the summer of 2022.

In parallel to the legislation and to facilitate a balanced and economically viable transition to cage-free farming, the Commission will seek specific supporting measures in key related policy areas, such as trade and research and innovation. In particular, the new Common Agricultural Policy will provide financial support and incentives – such as the new eco-schemes instrument – to help farmers upgrade to more animal-friendly facilities in line with the new standards. Additionally, Member States can draw from the Just Transition Fund and Recovery and Resilience Facility to support farmers in the adaptation to cage-free systems.

Next Steps

Since an end of the use of cages will require changes to current farming systems, the Commission will consider the socio-economic and environmental implications of the measures to be taken and the benefits to animal welfare in an impact assessment to be completed before the end of 2022. In this context, a public consultation will be carried out at the latest by early 2022. The Commission will assess the feasibility of working towards the proposed legislation entering into force from 2027.

Members of the College said:

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said: “As the successful outcome of this Initiative shows, citizens’ input can make a real difference, leading to concrete legislative proposals from the Commission. We have heard the concerns of millions of people over the living conditions of farm animals and we will respond to it. My message to EU citizens is simple: the ECI is there for you, don’t hesitate to use it!”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Animals are sentient beings and we have a moral, societal responsibility to ensure that on-farm conditions for animals reflect this. Today’s response is a key step towards an ambitious revision of the animal welfare legislation in 2023, a priority since the beginning of my mandate. Our commitment is clear: the phasing out of cages for farm animals will be part of our actions under the Farm to Fork Strategy and lead to more sustainable farming and food systems. I am determined to ensure that the EU remains at the forefront of animal welfare on the global stage and that we deliver on societal expectations.”

Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner for Agriculture, said: “A sustainable food system cannot exist without high animal welfare standards. Thanks to our citizens, the Commission will be even more ambitious in this regard and phase out the use of cage systems for animal farms. The Green Deal and its Farm to Fork Strategy, supported by the new Common Agricultural Policy, will be crucial in the transition to sustainable food systems. This citizens’ initiative only confirms that this transition also responds to a societal demand for more ethical and sustainable farming.”

Background

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was launched in April 2012 as a means for citizens to set the agenda in a wide range of policy areas. An ECI allows 1 million citizens from at least seven EU Member States to invite the European Commission to propose legal action in areas where the Commission has the power to do so.

The ECI is one of the key innovative tools to promote participatory democracy on EU level.

To date, the Commission has received 104 requests to launch an ECI, this includes two new ECIs registered today. Out of these requests, 81 were in fields of EU competence and have been registered. Six have so far reached the threshold of one million signatures and were submitted to the Commission, ‘End the Cage Age’ being the most recent one.

The first EU legislation on animal welfare was adopted in 1974 and has since evolved and expanded. The current legal framework for the keeping of farmed animals consists of a general Directive on the protection of animals bred and kept for farming purposes and four specific directives. The general Directive sets out general principles and leaves room for Member States to adopt stricter provisions, provided they are compatible with EU rules. The four specific directives govern the welfare of laying hens, broilers, calves and pigs. No specific EU animal welfare legislation exists for the other animals referred to in the ECI.

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