e-petition 593775, End the Cage Age for all farmed animals, closed on 7 February 2022 after receiving 109,823 signatures. The petition calls for a number of farming practices to end in the UK by 2027, when the European Commission intends to ban cages for all farm animals and consider restrictions on imports from caged systems. The petition says:
Every year across the UK, millions of farmed animals are kept in cages, unable to express their natural behaviours and experiencing huge suffering. These inhumane systems cannot be the future of British farming. The UK Government must legislate to ‘End the Cage Age’ for all farmed animals.
The European Commission plans to ban cages for all farmed animals, potentially by 2027, and will also look to prohibit the import of food from caged systems. This would result in the UK lagging behind the EU and may add bureaucracy to trade with the UK’s largest export market – possibly damaging the whole British farming sector.
The UK Government must work to secure by 2027, across the UK, a ban on the use of:
-barren, enriched and ‘combi’ cages
-farrowing crates for sows
-individual calf pens.
The Government responded to the petition on 20 August 2021. The response set out existing policies on the systems named in the petition but did not commit to introducing a ban. It did not refer to the EU proposals. It also summarised the Government’s approach as follows:
The Government is committed to improving farm animal welfare standards and is currently exploring options for introducing further reforms, including phasing out the use of cages in farming.
We are committed to maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in farm animal welfare and want to improve and build upon that record, working in partnership with farmers to support healthier, higher welfare animals. We are co-designing an Animal Health and Welfare Pathway with industry which will launch in 2022. We are also working to support livestock farmers financially by using public funds to pay for health and welfare enhancements that are valued by the public and not currently delivered sufficiently by the market or through existing regulatory standards. This will promote the production of healthier animals at a level beyond compliance with current regulations.
A Commons Library Briefing on the rules on the use of cages in farming, prepared for a similar petition debated the House of Commons on 16 March 2020 provides further background on the UK legislation and stakeholder views.
EU proposed 2027 cage ban
The campaign End the Cage Age has been run by range of animal welfare organisations in the UK and across Europe, including Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) which published a report of the same title. CIWF views the use of cages in farming as cruel:
Science shows us that caging animals is cruel: they are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and joy. These farming systems cause immense suffering because animals in cages have no control over their lives, experience extreme frustration, are severely restricted in their movement, and are prevented from performing almost all natural behaviours.
As part of the campaign a European Citizens’ Initiative calling for an end to caged farming in the EU was registered by CIWF in September 2019 and ran for a year. The initiative received 1,397,113 statements of support, with 54,114 from the UK. A European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a form of petition to the European Commission. To be successful an initiative must receive the support of at least 1 million people with a minimum number in at least seven Member States.
After considering the initiative the Commission announced its response in June 2021. The Commission accepted the proposals in the initiative. It set out the intention to legislate by the end of 2023 to introduce a ban on all caged systems. It will also consider measures relating to imports to the EU of products from farmed caged systems. A press release set out details as follows:
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.
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.
The Commission will also “assess the feasibility of working towards the proposed legislation entering into force from 2027”. The Commission committed to a public consultation in 2022.
In response to the Commission’s announcement CIWF “wholeheartedly welcomed the EU’s historic decision”. The EuroGroup for Animals, an NGO coalition, highlighted that “making history for farmed animals has been a collaborative effort, where Compassion in World Farming has been leading a coalition of 170 NGOs from across Europe and rallied citizens from every corner of the Union”.
The UK National Pig Association has said it was “not realistic to contemplate banning farrowing crates as soon as 2027 at EU or UK level”. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) response highlighted that UK egg farmers had invested £400m replacing battery cages with enriched colony cages, and that:
Colony cages have an important role to play in producing eggs for the UK consumer at an affordable price point and we will continue to support sustainable farming practices that maintain high welfare standards for laying hens.
European farming associations also raised concerns about the proposals when they were announced:
Morgan Ody, a member of farmers’ association European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) coordinating committee, warned that to make this kind of change viable, it is essential that “much-needed socioeconomic support and legislative measures are put in place”.
Pointing out that the prices farmers receive “often don’t cover costs,” she stressed that the Commission “must commit to ensuring farmers receive fairer prices for their products”, especially if production costs are increased by complying with EU legislation.
Meanwhile, EU farmers association COPA-COGECA warned that, given the need for concrete and technical proposals to further make an assessment, committing to the 2027 timeline is “not realistic”
The UK Government commented on the E Commission’s announcement in response to a Parliamentary Question on 22 March 2022, specifically questioning the proposed implementation date:
The Commission’s stated aim is to introduce legislation in 2027, but under pressure from some Member States we anticipate the phase in period for banning enriched cages may be several years. The EU’s programme of work will address many issues which we are already looking at, for example, cages for farmed animals and long journeys.
The response also highlighted the publication of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway on 22 February 2022:
One of the Pathway’s priorities will be to support a transition away from enriched cages for laying hens. At this stage, there has been no decision on allocation of funding.