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Will the EU announce by 2024 going cage-free?

This question has been posed by Rethink Priorities, a non-profit research organisation, as part of their work on European Union animal welfare policies.

European Union (EU) legislation currently allows the use of "enriched" cages for egg-laying hens as well as alternative cage-free systems through Directive 1999/74/EC. EU statistics indicate that 50.5% of egg-laying hens in the EU are cage-free.

In July 2020, the European Commission tasked the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) with investigating the welfare of cages for laying hens to provide a sound scientific basis by December 2022 for 'future legislative decisions'. The EFSA website specifically mentions the "End the Cage Age" European Citizens’ Initiative signed by over 1 million European Union citizens calling for a ban on using confined housing in livestock farming, which includes the caging of laying hens, in the whole EU. In September 2020, the Commission put out a call for 24 month tenders for the pilot project "Best Practices for Alternative Egg Production". In August 2020, in response to parliamentary questions, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides reiterated that the EU Commission would present a working paper on the implementation of animal welfare in the European Union in early 2022 and will present appropriate legislative proposals by the end of 2023.

Directives are a type of EU law that define goals that have to be incorporated into the national law of countries in the EU within a certain time period but allow some flexibility for countries to apply rules to achieve these goals, and to set stricter standards if they wish. Regulations are binding rules with immediate direct effect in member states and therefore are much stronger instruments but do not allow flexibility to accommodate different legal systems across the 27 EU countries. As the only institution in the EU that can formally initiate legislation, it is up to the European Commission to launch a directive or regulation. Proposals move back and forth through the other institutions of the EU for amendments and votes and may eventually be passed into law. A number of EU members have announced their own national restrictions on caging hens that go beyond existing EU requirements.

  • Germany announced a phase-out deadline for existing cage holdings by the end of 2025, with an extension to this deadline of up to a maximum of three years (2028) only in special cases of hardship.
  • In Austria, a ban on enriched cages comes into force in 2020.
  • In Luxembourg, the ban is already in place and no cage hen farms are operating there.
  • In September 2020, the Deputy Chamber of the Czech Parliament approved a total ban on cages for laying hens from 2027. It has yet to be passed by the Czech Senate.
  • The Slovak agricultural minister announced the intention to phase out cages by 2030.
  • In the Walloon Region in Belgium, the government has adopted the Walloon Code of Animal Welfare, under which keeping hens in enriched cages will become illegal by 2028. Flanders, the other major province in Belgium, was also due to make such a ban but it has not happened yet (although there was some suggestion back in 2009 that a full cage ban would not come until 2040).
  • France is to ban the sale of whole eggs from caged hens in shops by 2022 (but not eggs broken and used as ingredients).
  • The Netherlands plans to ban enriched cages from 2021, but allow a larger type of cage (colony cages) to continue to be used.

In September 2020, the Czech ministry of agriculture submitted a proposal for an EU-wide ban on cages for laying hens from 2030 at an EU council meeting and media claimed that "the European Commission and some member states, e. g. Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden or Slovakia, welcomed the Czech proposal.” Note that Czechia is due to take over the rotating Presidency of the European Council in July 2022 until December 2022 and Sweden will take over from January 2023 to June 2023. The Greek Minister of Rural Development and Food, Makis Voridis, signalled support for an EU ban on the use of cages for hens. Cypriot Minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Kadis, allegedly offered support for an EU ban. The EU Commission serves a 5 year term, and the current term is due to end on 31 October 2024.

Will the current European Commission propose a European Union directive or regulation banning all types of caged-housing for egg-laying hens before the end of its term on 31st October 2024?

This question will be resolved when the European Commission is reported on the EU Press Corner website to have made a proposal for a directive or regulation that requires an end to the use of all caged systems for egg-laying hens within the European Union. Note that predictions are for if the announcement will be made, not for what date cages will be effectively banned nor for when or if the Commission proposal will be adopted into law successfully after being proposed. If the Commission proposal is made on or before 31 October 2024 the question will be resolved positively. If the Commission has not proposed a cage-free law by the end of the current term (31 October 2024), this will resolve negatively.

In the case of positive resolution, this question retroactively closes 48 hours before the time of the EU commission announcement.

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