#ENDTHECAGEAGE - European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)

Fb cover photo1

Ending the Modern Tragedy of Cages

On September 25, twenty-three Eurogroup for Animals member organizations joined the launch of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to end the use of cages in animal agriculture in the European Union (EU). An ECI is a mechanism introduced with the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, which enables EU citizens to petition the European Commission to propose legislation in an area of its competence. It must collect at least one million signatures from EU citizens across one quarter of the Member States before being eligible to formally request the European Commission to enact legislation.

Once the requisite signatures are gathered, the ECI coalition intends to formally request the EU Commission to “propose legislation [prohibiting] the use of cages for laying hens, rabbits, pullets, broiler breeders, layer breeders, quail, ducks, and geese; farrowing crates for sows; sow stalls, where not already prohibited; and individual calf pens, where not already prohibited.”

At the Heart of Factory Farming: the Cage

The “End the Cage Age” ECI aims to ban the use of cages, an enabler of extreme confinement of animals which was instrumental in the proliferation and day-to-day functioning of factory farms across Europe.

The presence of cages in animal agriculture can be traced back to the development of large-scale poultry production in the U.S. in the 1960s, which provided the blueprint for factory farming as we know it today. Producers had understood the benefits of extreme confinement of animals on the profitability of farm animal agriculture long before the second half of the 20th century. However, it is not until innovations in biotechnology, specifically in veterinary medicine through the use of antibiotics, and through animal nutrition with the use of feed additives, that animal agriculture producers began confining animals to extreme levels.

After the advent of such technologies, the use of all sorts of cages expanded to confine, isolate, manage, and alienate animals from their own sentient nature at each stage of production. In industrial agricultural settings, cages allow producers to stack animals onto each other, thus reducing the per-animal housing costs while maximising the number of animals raised for food.

Cages also allow producers to monitor and administer feed and medicines while providing them easier access to the animals’ reproductive organs when performing heat detection, artificial insemination, and assistance to parturition.

Finally, cages prevent animals from preying on each other, and helps ensure that animals do not escape from a system that treats them as mere commodities. In that sense, cages are symptomatic of factory farming’s attempt to adapt animals to the unnatural environment of industrial production, rather than adapting systems of production to the animals’ most basic needs.


The Time to Ban Cages is Long Overdue

A brief overview of the economics of factory farming thus highlights the crucial role that the cage has played so far in this industry as a tool of extreme confinement and a key to the profitability of factory farms. Yet, the widespread use of cages stands in sharp contradiction with article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which recognizes animals as sentient beings, and provides that the Union and Member States shall “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals” in formulating and implementing agricultural policy.

Furthermore, the development of industrial farm animal production, and the array of cruel practices towards animals that comes with it, has occurred in complete disregard to the citizens’ overwhelming opinion that “it is important to protect the welfare of farm animals” (Eurobarometer, 2016).  The ECI is thus one of many avenues animal advocacy organisations pursue to make the voice of citizens heard and obtain a general ban on the use of cages in the EU by 2027.

“It’s time to respect animal sentience and end all cages for good. A million signatures on the ECI will show that people want action to end farm animal suffering. This massive campaign is our opportunity to not only end cage cruelty for hens, but also for hundreds of millions of pigs, calves, rabbits, quail, ducks and geese.”
Philip Lymbery, Chief executive, Compassion in World Farming

For the past twenty years, Eurogroup for Animals has been on the forefront of the ban of cages for farmed animals, resulting in a ban on veal crates in 1997, followed by the ban on the use of barren battery cages for laying hens in 1999 and the restrictions on the use of sow stalls in 2001. Today, two Member States (Sweden, UK) have issued a national ban on the use of sow stalls, and two Member States (Austria, Germany) prohibit the use of battery cages for egg-laying hens, laying down the ground towards harmonisation of the regulation under the form of a general EU ban on battery cages.

At the same time, corporate commitments to go cage-free secured by animal advocates with major food manufacturers and retailers further demonstrate the growing adaptability of the private sector and its ability to anticipate a regulatory phase out of cages compared to even five years ago.

These initiatives too contribute to reducing the barriers to an EU.-wide ban on cage use for farmed animals. To better accompany regulators and businesses, and ensure the cage-free transition actually translates into higher animal welfare standards, Eurogroup for Animals will present guidelines for best animal welfare practices in cage-free systems later this year.

If the EU continues producing animals for food, as is almost certainly the case, then it should do so in compliance with the law and in line with the public opinion by offering animals space, adequate food, good health, natural light, and opportunities to engage in social interactions and species-specific behaviours.

Factory farming and its array of cage sizes and uses were imported and massively adopted in the E.U. in less than 50 years, a relatively brief period of time compared to the thousands of years of human-animal relationship in the context of agriculture. For the good of animals and future generations, it is time to close this dark chapter of cages in our agricultural history.