The EU and the US pave the way for a ban on cages imposed on imported food
The resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calls on the European Commission to revise the outdated EU General Farming Directive to phase out cruel cage-based systems in animal farming in the EU, and, more importantly, to apply these new rules to all products placed on the EU market – including imported ones.
Imposing these rules on imports would be a turning point for the EU. While nine out of ten Europeans believe imported products should respect EU animal welfare standards, it is, at the moment, only the case for standards on welfare at the time of slaughter.
Ahead of the vote in the European Parliament, Commissioner Kyrikiades noted that applying EU cage-free standards to imported animal products would reflect the demands expressed by EU citizens and she showed openness to explore this option: “I heard the many points raised regarding imports, and we will look at the application of the same standards to imported products as well as labelling in compliance with WTO rules to satisfy citizens' demands for high welfare for imported products of animal origin”, she concluded.
The EU should not shy away from adopting comprehensive measures on cages and to apply them to imports. Firstly, if crafted properly, there is no doubt that such a measure would be compatible with WTO rules. Secondly, the EU could even count on the support of the US.
Indeed, the US notified other WTO members about California’s proposed ban on cages on 8 June 2021. This proposal emerged in 2018 with the adoption of the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, also known as Proposition 12. The text suggested a ban on cages for laying hens, pigs and calves, and a ban on the sales of products derived from cage-based productions, regardless of their origin. The legislative process has now started, and if adopted, the measure will impact trade with California and ultimately the US.
This news was a turning point, confirming that the EU’s decision could even be supported by important allies. Moreover, it will pave the way for discussions at the WTO on possible bans - including the EU’s - on animal products that would not comply with cage-free standards and, looking at the objectives described in the legislation and in the notification, it also strengthens the EU’s rationale that such a ban would be WTO-compatible based on ethical reasons.In addition to respecting citizen’s views, applying cage-free standards to imports would also be a huge incentive for producers around the world to improve animal welfare standards, and to shift to more sustainable food systems as they would then gain access to relevant markets. The life and wellbeing of millions of animals around the world could be positively impacted.