Dear Ms Charbonneaux, dear Ms Kikou, organisers of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to End the Cage Age,

First, let me congratulate you on the collection of almost 1.4 million signatures and for easily passing the required threshold in 18 European Union Member States.

I know very well that these results do not come easily. They require hard work, determination and dedication to the goals of the initiative. Your effort, and the effort of over 170 organisations that joined forces with you, deserves sincere acknowledgement.

Your success also reflects the concerns and expectations of many European citizens – and I am delighted meeting with you today and to hear their voice, through you.

I also very much appreciate the scientific studies and the practical examples on alternatives to conventional farming practices that you have collected -- which strengthen your case for action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Just over one year ago, President von der Leyen stressed in my Mission Letter that animal welfare was a “moral, health and economic imperative.” I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that position today. To reiterate my commitment and determination to bring about positive and substantial change on animal welfare, through various actions.

The end of the collection phase for signatures for this initiative coincided with the adoption of the Green Deal and the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy. You are no doubt aware that animal welfare is a crucial component of these major initiatives.

In parallel, my services are evaluating the 2012-2015 Animal Welfare Strategy, and we have started a ‘Fitness Check’ of the EU animal welfare acquis to propose new legislation in the coming years.

The European Citizens’ Initiative is a powerful example of participatory democracy in action. And as you know, legislation in democratic systems is the result of negotiations, good will, even compromise, and of course determination to bring about change.

Current EU legislation on animal welfare does take into account the needs of the animals concerned, as well as the interests and obligations of those handling the animals.

Looking at EU animal welfare legislation historically, I am proud of its evolution in the interest of the animals. We have indeed come a long way but it is not the end of the road.

Banning barren cages for laying hens and requiring group housing for sows during a considerable period of their life are two important examples of this progress. But no system is perfect and every structure can be improved. And we are certainly not afraid to recognise this need and to act upon it.

Your European Citizens’ Initiative calls for legislation banning the use of cages

Current EU animal welfare legislation either does not address this issue specifically – for example cages for rabbits or pullets – or lays down minimum requirements for their use, for example for sow crates and stalls.

This legislation has evolved over a period of decades – in important ways – through discussion and always guided by scientific developments.

The work of the European Food Safety Authority is essential in this context, and they continue to produce important scientific analysis that enriches this discussion.

Recent examples include the report on poultry flocks, adopted in January 2019, and the report on rabbits reared in alternative production systems, adopted in November 2019.

And EFSA is already working on additional scientific opinions that will address welfare aspects of animals, either kept in cages or in individual stalls.

It’s important to acknowledge that any potential legislative measures will be based on a wealth of knowledge and opinion, such as:

  • EFSA’s scientific analysis;
  • the evaluation of the Animal Welfare Strategy;
  • the ‘Fitness Check’; and
  • crucially, the information provided in the context of the ‘End the Cage Age’ initiative.

I want to finish by stressing an important point.

Any future proposals will be guided by close consultation and collaboration. Because it is only through fruitful exchanges and by working together that we can move forward in a productive way.

Our meeting today, not the first with some of you, provides an excellent opportunity to better understand your thinking and to learn more about your work and your goals. We are on the same front, as animal welfare is equally important to us all.

And like I said, it gives us a chance to hear the voice of democracy and to witness citizen participation in policy and in politics.