May 24. 2024. 7:02

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EU agency backs cage-free farming for chickens

The use of cages, the practice of mutilation and feed restriction should be avoided for the welfare of farmed broiler chickens and laying hens, according to new scientific opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The two opinions – one on broiler chickens, those bred specifically for meat production, and another on laying hens – published on Tuesday (21 February), were requested by the European Commission in the framework of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation.

The EU scientific body’s conclusions are clear: “Birds should be housed in cage-free systems.”

In addition, EFSA advises against the practice of mutilation, including beak trimming, which is practiced to reduce the risk of animals pecking each other.

“The practice of beak trimming should not be necessary if good management practices are implemented,” reads the report.

The major threats to the birds’ welfare identified by the EU agency include genetic selection for fast growing rate and high stocking density, as well as high temperatures, absence of litter or poor litter quality and sub-optimal light management.

The opinions give a number of recommendations, ranging from reducing stocking density to allowing birds to rest in elevated platforms, to prevent the negative welfare consequences.

The EU is one of the world’s biggest producers of poultry meat with around 6 billion broiler chickens being reared for meat every year resulting in 13.3 million tonnes of poultry meat, according to the report.

In 2022, the EU executive evaluated the current EU animal welfare legislation concluding that its overhaul is needed, and a proposal is expected in the second half of 2023.

The opinion also follows up on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “End the Cage Age”, which gathered 1.4 million signatures calling for a transition to a cage-free farming system.

Commission backs ban on cages in farming in ‘historic’ move for animal welfare

The European Commission has committed to working towards a ban on cages for farmed animals in what is being hailed as an historic move for animal welfare after a citizens initiative amassed more than one million signatures from across Europe.

Politics and science in agreement

In 2021, the Commission set out a commitment to come up with a legislative proposal by 2023 to prohibit cages for a number of farm animals as part of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation under the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy.

The Commission intends to work towards the proposed legislation entering into force from 2027, subject to the necessary impact assessments and phasing out periods.

However, the end goal of the revision is “crystal clear”, said Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who stressed the aim is for a “cage-free environment, for millions of animals”.

Representatives of member states and EU lawmakers also endorsed the European Commission’s ambition to phase out cage rearing in the EU at the time.

In the meantime, EFSA has already published a scientific opinion on the welfare of farmed pigs, as well as five opinions on the welfare of farmed animals during transportation, which also advised against caging these animals.

Other scientific opinions on the welfare of farmed calves, dairy cattle, and ducks, geese and quail will follow.

EURACTIV has reached out to stakeholders for comment. The story will be updated with their comments shortly.

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