The smooth transition to cage free farming

17 Feb 2023
On 16 February 2023, the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals discussed the process of phasing out caged farming in the EU and the possibilities for a smooth transition to cage-free rearing systems for farmed animals. During this session force-feeding in foie gras production was also addressed.

In 2021, on the back of the successful European Citizens’ Initiative “End the Cage Age” which collected almost 1.4 million validated signatures, the European Commission confirmed it would respond positively to the massive call from citizens, and announced plans to prohibit cages for over 300 million hens, pigs, calves, rabbits, ducks, geese and other animals currently farmed in such systems.

Dr Sarah Ison presented the report “Phasing out cages in the EU: the road to a smooth transitionon behalf of the author, animal welfare consultant Dr Helen Lambert. In the report, the Five Domains of animal welfare, i. e. (1) nutrition, (2) environment, (3) health, (4) behaviour and (5) mental state are considered criteria that both positively and negatively affect an animal’s welfare. The document includes case studies from producers in different Member States who have successfully phased out cages for laying hens, pigs and rabbits and best practices that take into account financial, logistical and environmental challenges. The report is concluded with recommendations on realistic phase-out timelines backed by scientific data and experiences of the industry.  The full report will be published on the Eurogroup for Animals website soon.

Dr Pietro Pizzagalli, from Fumagalli Industria Alimentari SpA spoke about their award-winning systems for rearing pigs. He stressed that the transition to free range system for pigs has to go hand in hand with the development of a different approach to farming management based on late weaning, nursing without stress, free range, minimised heat stress and improved hygienic conditions.

Josep Bertran from Urgasa, a Spanish company that is the largest quail producer in Europe presented their free to fly system for the rearing of quails which is more adjusted to the species-specific requirements of these birds than cage systems. 

The MEPs present were very interested to hear that the innovative cage-free rearing systems, in comparison to caged farming, have positive outcomes for the animals and the producers alike. They were pleased to hear the systems are also viable from a competitive point of view.

The second part of the meeting was dedicated to the issue of force feeding in foie gras production.

Adolfo Sansolini, Consultant at GAIA and Advisor at Eurogroup for Animals said that the use of force-feeding of ducks and geese in foie gras production remains allowed in very few Member States and a region, namely in France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Spain and Wallonia. Despite this fact the EU institutions continue to preserve a sectorial niche sector instead of defending citizens’ concerns that want to see good welfare standards for all farmed animals as expressed in the 2016 Eurobarometer on attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare.

He stressed that the easiest way of ending the barbaric treatment of animals in foie gras production would be to delete the requirement of minimum liver weights which was arbitrarily introduced in the Commission Regulation on marketing standards for poultrymeat in the early nineties. This simple measure would end the force feeding of the birds, generate fairer competition for farmers across the EU, allow consumer choice, and end the penalisation on the market of companies and countries that have adopted higher standards.

The other alternative of ending force-feeding would be to ban it altogether in the EU and without exemptions, thus fully implementing Directive 58/98/EC, which states that “No animal shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner (…) which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury.” 

Olivier Morice, Public Affairs Officer for L214, showed recent footage taken in a French farm specialised in fattening ducks for foie gras production. The images of shocking treatment of the animals during, before and after force-feeding were shared with the audience. 

Concluding, Tilly Metz stressed that it is important for the Commission to facilitate a sustainable transition, benefiting animals, farmers and consumers, whose calls for better animal welfare standards will finally be addressed. Without doubt, the transition needs to be supported financially by the EU. She also expressed the hope to see an ambitious revision of the Animal Welfare legislation this coming October, drawing on the report presented today as well as the best practices shared.

Next Intergroup sessions

In March the Animal Welfare Intergroup will have two side events as well as the regular monthly Intergroup session.

On 8th March, the Intergroup’s Working Group on Companion Animals will hold an online meeting on Animals in Disasters: the need for protection and coordination across Europe with speakers from the DG ECHO and Four PAWS.

The monthly Intergroup session will take place on 16th March and will be on the Economic Case for the revision of the EU animal welfare legislation. Two related reports, one on the true costs of the current animal production for public health and the environment as well as a report on the consumers’ willingness to pay will be presented.

On the 23rd of March, there will be another event hosted by Manuela Ripa and Pascal Durand, concerning the case for an EU-wide positive list for companion animals.

The link to the meeting is available here.

free range