Emilia Romagna on the Path Towards Cage-Free Farms

The Commission for Economic Policies of the Legislative Assembly of Emilia-Romagna (Italy) has approved a resolution committing the Regional Council to support a transition towards cage-free animal farms that respect animal welfare. Slow Food welcomes this initiative and sees it as “an excellent start. But now is the time for a concrete framework of action: we need defined timelines, action plans and above all a numerical estimation of how many animals are still farmed in these conditions”.

Caged-free farming

Emilia Romagna (Italy) announces a stop to caged-animal farming. We are very happy today to share this decision taken by the regional administration of Emilia Romagna that we hope will be a leading example for Italy and Europe to ensure cage-free farming.

On May 11, the Commission for Economic Policies of the Regional Legislative Assembly approved a resolution which commits the Regional Council to support the transition to cage-free farms and respect animal welfare. The commitment is to guarantee support in the transition to farmers across Emilia Romagna, compatibly with budgetary resources.

This is a very important first step, considering how central animal husbandry is for the agri-food sector in Emilia Romagna: the region is home for the renowned Protected Designations of Origin such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma.

The European Citizens’ Initiative End the Cage Age

This most welcome political development takes its cue from the success of the European Citizens’ Initiative “End the Cage Age”, supported by more than 170 organizations including Slow Food, which collected over 1.4 million signatures in 2019. The message sent by citizens to the European institutions was clear: it is time to abolish the use of cages on farms across Europe, where every year, 300 million animals (sows, chickens, rabbits, ducks, quails and calves) live the whole or part of their lives in cages, without being able to move freely. An imprisonment that inhibits their natural behaviors such as rooting or flapping their wings. Some of these cages are so small that animals cannot even turn around.

The success of this citizens’ initiative was such that the European Parliament mandated a study on the subject, to assess its feasibility. The study examined alternatives to cage housing for hens and sows, and its conclusions are promising: “Cage-free rearing has a positive effect on behavioral freedom and animal welfare (…) Research shows that cage-free housing is currently possible or will be possible in the future. A shift towards cage-free husbandry systems can be achieved in the short term through economic and political measures, and in the long term through a legislative process”.

And Emilia Romagna Region has started this process.

What are the Next Steps in Emilia Romagna?

The Regional Council has foreseen several actions for public awareness and education in order to “encourage informed behavior and to support adherence of farmers to the objectives of the European Citizens’ Initiative”. Although the EU Commission’s decision on the topic is still pending, the Regional Council has also committed to advocate with the Italian government to ensure that concrete measures are taken to respond to the European initiative, and to kick-start the gradual transition.

Included in Emilia Romagna’s program is also a redefinition of animal farming spaces and methods (for which an adequate financial support will be needed). The European Union is heading towards the same conclusions. During the public hearing that took place at the European Parliament on April 15, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Janusz Wojciechowski, said that EU agricultural subsidies and the Recovery Fund “can also be used in part to phase out cage farming and implement alternative methods”, adding that the “European Commission fully supports this transition”.

Slow Food’s Take: We Need Commitment, Timelines and Numbers

“Emilia Romagna’s resolution gives us hope, but we are aware that this is not a point of arrival, but a good place to start. Now, however, we need a concrete framework of action, meaning we need time frames and procedures. I am thinking for example about possible penalties for those who do not comply with the new directives, or about the fact that we need to avoid postponements that risk watering down this resolution. Above all, we need to understand how many animals are still raised in these conditions and at what pace we intend to release them. Emilia Romagna’s resolution can become a driving force for Italy and hopefully for all of Europe, once their commitment, timeline and numbers are defined. For our part, we will continue to monitor and keep the citizens’ attention high,” said Pietro Venezia, a veterinary from Veterinari Senza Frontiere. He is also a collaborator of the Slow Meat campaign, through which Slow Food invites people to make conscious consumption choices that take the impact on the environment, animal welfare and labor rights.

For further information, read Slow Food’s position paper on animal welfare.

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