Chicken farmers hen-pecked by EU plans on cages

Maltese chicken farmers face new hurdles by end of 2023 as the European Commission seeks to legislate against caged farming

The European Commission seeks to legislate against caged farming by end 2023 (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)
The European Commission seeks to legislate against caged farming by end 2023 (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)

Maltese chicken farmers face new hurdles by end of 2023 as the European Commission seeks to legislate against caged farming.

The Nationalist MEP candidate Peter Agius has written to European commissioners Stella Kyriakides and Janusz Wojciechowski calling on Brussels to examine the impact that this law would have on the Maltese farming industry.

Under the proposed law, the Commission promises to phase out caged farming before banning the practice altogether in 2027.

The proposal came after a petition circulated demanding an end to caged animal farming, with more than 1.4 million signatures collected.

The law itself is set to be drafted and proposed by end of 2023, and will ban caged farming for rabbits, young hens, quails, ducks and geese.

While the changed will be proposed in 2023, the ban is set to be introduced by 2027.

As EU rules stand now, only laying hens, broiler chickens, sows and calves are covered by rules on caging.

A chicken farmer who spoke to MaltaToday said that this legislation will wreak havoc among local farmers and will force many of them out of business. “They would ruin everyone in Malta,” he said. “Keeping chickens is already expensive.”

The farmer, who keeps 50,000 chickens, said that he would have to double his available space to bring himself in line with the rules. But the space itself would be a huge expense to incur, and fields to keep chickens are not common to come by.

He said the knock-on effect of this would mean that local products will become far more expensive than foreign goods, forcing even more local farmers out of business.

Peter Agius explained to the European commissioners that this proposed law affects Maltese farmers disproportionately.

For example, while a farmer in Poland would have to spend €15,000 to increase their farming space, a Maltese farmer looking to expand by the same amount of land would have to spend an average of €500,000.

“It is evident that the law being proposed by the European Commission will place Maltese farmers at a competitive disadvantage, so much so that in no circumstance will a Maltese farmer be able to compete in terms of profitability, because the starting capital expense will be 10 times more expensive,” Agius said.

He said that the Commission is currently examining the wider impact of the proposed law, but this examination does not include a review of the particular situation in Malta.

Agius noted how the current guidelines concerning barn chickens specify that farmers should have a tumolo of built land for every 15,000 chickens. So a farm that usually houses 45,000 chickens would need three tumolo of land.

“Unless there is an extraordinary investment in practically all farms across Malta and Gozo, this law risks crippling the majority of the country’s 40 chicken farms, 90 pig farms and other rabbit farms.”

Agius said that any market failure in the animal rearing sector would place Malta in food insecurity. “As a Maltese person I am very worried about my country ending up in a situation where it does not produce any food locally.”

He pointed out that this ban would also place major pressures on agricultural land and land outside Malta’s development zone. “The law as proposed means that, for farmers to comply with the rules, Malta would have to issue permits for construction on hundreds of tumolo of agricultural and virgin land.

The law was proposed in reaction to a European Citizen’s Initiative put forward by Compassion in World Farming called “End the Cage Age”. The initiative gathered more than 1.4 million signatures.

Malta’s six MEPs had voted in favour of the “End the Cage Age” resolution back in 2021.

Caged farming, a widely-practiced industrial livestock production system worldwide, entails keeping large numbers of animals meant for human consumption confined to cages or small spaces.

This farming system allows for cheaper poultry prices, but many have raised concerns about animal welfare, human health, and the environmental impacts of caged farming.

The European Commission’s official response to the “End the Cage Age” initiative said that the transition away from caged forming would require supportive measures such as guidelines, recommendations, financial incentives, eco-schemes and funding implemented alongside the legislation.

The Commission also committed itself to supporting information campaigns and training for cage-free farming, working with food processors and retailers to encourage the development of a cage-free market, and introducing an animal welfare labelling scheme to provide consumers with more information.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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