The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released new scientific opinions on the welfare of farmed broiler chickens and laying hens, advising against the use of cages, mutilation, and feed restriction. The reports, requested by the European Commission, come as part of ongoing revisions to animal welfare legislation. EFSA’s conclusions were unequivocal: “Birds should be housed in cage-free systems.” The reports also advised against the practice of beak trimming, stating that it should not be necessary if good management practices are implemented. Genetic selection for fast growth, high stocking density, high temperatures, and poor litter quality were among the major threats to the birds’ welfare identified by the EU agency. The opinions included recommendations to reduce stocking density and to provide elevated platforms to allow birds to rest.
The EU is one of the world’s largest producers of poultry meat, with approximately 6 billion broiler chickens being reared for meat every year, resulting in 13.3 million tonnes of poultry meat. The opinions follow the European Citizens’ Initiative “End the Cage Age,” which gathered 1.4 million signatures calling for a transition to cage-free farming.
In 2022, the European Commission evaluated the current EU animal welfare legislation and concluded that it needs to be overhauled. A proposal is expected in the second half of 2023. The opinion follows a commitment made by the European Commission to work towards a ban on cages for farmed animals, with the aim of phasing it out by 2027. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has stated that the end goal of the revision is a “cage-free environment, for millions of animals.”
EFSA has already published scientific opinions on the welfare of farmed pigs and farmed animals during transportation, also advising against caging these animals. Other scientific opinions on the welfare of farmed calves, dairy cattle, and ducks, geese, and quail will follow. The move towards cage-free farming has been described as historic, with representatives of member states and EU lawmakers endorsing the European Commission’s ambition to phase out cage rearing in the EU. Photo by woodley wonderworks, Wikimedia commons.