European citizens have achieved a significant result, convincing the European institutions to discuss introducing a new European law to eliminate and permanently ban the use of cages for certain farm animals. More than 1.3 million Europeans signed a European Citizens’ Initiative (ICE or ECI) launched at the end of 2018 entitled “End the Cage Age”. The ECI is one of the key innovative tools to promote participatory democracy at the EU level, and to obtain a response from the institutions, it must receive the support of at least 1 million European citizens (with a minimum number of signatures per country).
Following this process of civic participation, the European Commission has announced its intention to present a legislative proposal by the end of 2023 to permanently eliminate and prohibit the use of cages for hens, mother pigs, calves, rabbits, ducks, geese and other farmed animals, with the ambition to phase out all cages for farm animals by 2027. The proposal will be part of the ongoing review of animal welfare legislation under the Farm to Fork strategy.
This citizens’ initiative reflects the call for a transition to more ethical and sustainable farming systems, including a review of existing EU animal welfare rules.
The Commission’s response to the ECI
While all farmed animals benefit from the current animal protection legislation, only laying hens, broilers, sows and calves are covered by the caging rules. However, there is no specific EU legislation on animal welfare for the other animals referred to in the ECI.
In its reply to the ECI, the Commission undertakes to present, by the end of 2023, a legislative proposal to phase out and finally prohibit the use of cages systems for all animals mentioned in the initiative.
In particular, the Commission proposal will cover:
- Animals already covered by the legislation: Laying hens, sows and calves;
- Improvement of animal welfare housing (investment);
- Conversion to organic farming methods.
Furthermore, the European Parliament recently adopted a specific resolution by a large majority, urging the Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal on the phasing out of cage farming, demanding that it be based on a scientifically sound impact assessment and that an appropriate transition period be ensured. Alternatives to caged farming are already successfully used in several Member States, and alternative systems should be developed, improved and encouraged. However,to ensure a level playing field for farmers throughout the European Union, Members have agreed that Community legislation is necessary.
The numbers of the European Citizens’ Initiative
The innovative European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) End the Cage Age (ECI) was launched on 11 September 2018 and ended exactly a year later, after collecting over 1.6 million signatures to ban cruel caged farms in the EU. After the required signature validation period, the ECI exceeded the required threshold of 1 million signatures, with a total of 1,397,113 validated signatures across Europe submitted on 2 October 2020. It also exceeded the minimum number of signatures in 18 EU Member States, of the seven requested.
The most substantial support for the European Citizens’ Initiative was registered in Germany with over 474000 signatures (34 % of the total) and the Netherlands (about 154 thousand signatures, i.e. 11 % of the total). Following this, Italy collected 90000 signatures to stop animal cage farming and France (89600) and Spain (about 86000). Activists of the organisation Compassion launched the initiative in World Farming, an organisation that supported the campaign with more than 390 thousand euros.