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Europe weighs banning cages for farm animals


The European Union is working on a plan to phase out the practice of raising farm animals in cages, a dramatic shift that is not likely to happen anytime soon but would amount to a major victory for animal rights activists.

"Animals are sentient beings and we have a moral, societal responsibility to ensure that on-farm conditions for animals reflect this," Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for health and food safety, said in a Wednesday statement.

The European Union has some of the strictest animal welfare standards in the world, including a ban on crowded battery cages, which are often used to house egg-laying hens in the United States. In recent years, however, calls to ban cages altogether have been gaining traction. That has alarmed some farm owners, who would have to radically overhaul their operations and are concerned about the potential costs of making the change.

Over the past year, a European Citizens' Initiative petition calling for a ban on caged farming received 1.4 million signatures from 18 countries across the bloc, enough that leaders were legally obligated to take up the issue. The European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution in support of a ban last month, and the European Commission followed with its own endorsement Wednesday.

The "End the Cage Age" petition had proposed a total ban on cages for animals such as hens, rabbits, quails, ducks and geese. Activists also called for rules that would outlaw the use of confined stalls, pens and crates for larger animals such as pigs and cows in areas where such structures are not already prohibited.

The amount of popular support that the proposal garnered demonstrated the "societal demand for more ethical and sustainable farming," Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU agriculture commissioner, said in a statement.

But industry groups have said the change could cost millions and that the petition fails to account for the fact that farming practices are not the same across Europe.

"In my native Finland, we have down to 30, minus-30 degrees temperatures. So it's obvious for all of us that animals have to be in an enclosure to protect them from the elements," Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of the industry group Copa Cogeca, told Euronews.

Practically speaking, any ban will be a long way off. The European Commission plans to introduce legislation by 2023, after consulting with members of the public. The ban would then have to be approved by EU lawmakers and individual EU countries, a process that could take years. The European Commission estimated Wednesday that any ban would most likely not go into effect until 2027.

In a document outlining its plans to write new legislation, the commission noted that a large share of the food consumed within the European Union is imported and that the bloc "bears a societal responsibility also with regard to the products it imports."

The commission will "step up its bilateral and multilateral efforts to raise animal welfare levels in third countries" and will consider asking importers from outside the bloc to have similarly strict welfare standards, the document states.

Despite the long bureaucratic process ahead, members of environmentally minded political parties and activists who had pushed for a ban expressed optimism this week and hailed the plan as a historic step.

"The Commission's pledge to end the cruelty of caged farming represents a historic achievement and a key milestone in the fight for a greater recognition of animal rights as well as a step towards the abolition of the most aberrant intensive farming practices, which cause the suffering of hundreds of millions of animals," Eleanora Evi, a member of the European Parliament who had backed the initiative, said Wednesday.

Compassion in World Farming, an advocacy group, said that moving to end the use of cages was "a massive step towards ending factory farming."

Broader changes to European farming regulations also could be on the way. Lawmakers set up a special parliamentary committee to investigate animal welfare conditions last year. The committee presented a draft report in late May recommending new animal welfare guidelines and potential sanctions if farmers and companies do not comply with such rules. The draft report will be put to a vote before the end of the year.

Published : July 04, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Antonia Noori Farzan, Quentin Aries