On Thursday, MEPs debated a citizens’ initiative to ban the use of cages for farm animals, together with organisers of the initiative, Commissioners and representatives of other EU bodies.
The public hearing, organised jointly by Parliament’s Agriculture and Petitions committees, on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “End the Cage Age” was opened by Committee Chairs Norbert Lins (EPP, DE) and Dolors Montserrat (EPP, ES) alongside Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová.
“I welcome and support this initiative. Animal welfare can be improved in the EU”, Agriculture Committee Chair Norbert Lins said. “It is of utmost importance that (...) before planning any radical shift [to fully cage-free housing], we need to analyse the cost of such a change” and “think about providing sufficient financial support, compensation or other incentives to the farmers”, he added.
“This is the sixth ECI to succeed among 76 registered initiatives in the last eight years. It represents the third-highest number of signatures ever collected and the first valid ECI for farmed animal welfare”, Petitions Committee Chair Dolors Montserrat said. “It has been submitted at a time where intensive animal husbandry is seeing greater public scrutiny and it demands that the EU make more [policy] changes”, she added.
“The Commission attaches the highest importance to ideas submitted via the European citizens’ initiative instrument and (...) it takes all successful initiatives very seriously”, Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová said, stressing that “citizens’ initiatives can and do generate long-term effects on EU policies”.
After the introductory statements, ECI organisers Olga Kikou and Leopoldine Charbonneaux presented the initiative’s objectives, specifically to end the use of cages for a number of species, including laying hens, rabbits, pullets, quail, ducks and geese, sows in sow stalls and farrowing crates and individual calf pens. “Instead of using cages, we call on the EU to (...) move to alternative systems, which are already in existence, such as barns, organic systems, free range or free farrowing”, said Ms Kikou. She stressed that farmers need to be provided with financial support to transition to cage-free farming and that imported products from non-EU countries must also meet EU animal welfare standards.
“Animal welfare concerns lie at the heart of the EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy”, said Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. “We are very much aware that we need to do more”, she said, pointing to the fitness check being carried out on existing EU animal welfare legislation. “We will use the results of [this] check to propose new legislation by 2023”, she said.
“The European Commission truly wants to improve animal welfare”, which is “at the very heart of the Green Deal”, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said, and stressed that the initiative has his “full support”. He called for more EU farm policy money to be used to improve animal welfare and insisted that “our trade partners accept the same (...) or equivalent standards”.
Kerli Ats and Guillaume Cros, respectively representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions, and members from both Agriculture and Petitions Committees also participated in the debate.
MEPs highlighted the importance of listening and acting on citizens’ concerns on animal welfare. However, any potential phase-out of caged farming requires proper financial support, incentives and an adequate transition period, many insisted. They called for strict and efficient measures to avoid imports of cheaper products with lower animal welfare standards from non-EU countries. Some also called for a proper impact assessment and insisted on EU legislative action.
The video recording of the debate is available here.
The European Citizens' Initiative allows one million citizens from at least a quarter of EU member states to ask the European Commission to propose legislation in areas that fall within its competence. The EU invites organisers of successful initiatives to present their initiative at a public hearing in the European Parliament, to the committee responsible for the subject matter.