The European Commission and the “Ban” on Battery Cages

On January 8, 2008, the European Commission rejected calls that it postpone its Directive calling for a “ban” on the conventional battery-cage, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2012 (after being first announced in 1999). According to the Directive, producers will have the choice to go “free-range,” “barn” (known as “cage-free” in the U.S.) or to use “enriched” cages where stocking densities are lower and that must have a nest, litter, perch and clawing board.

And the welfarists are, as you would predict, just as excited as they could be, although some at least had the good grace to reveal a small hint of the skepticism that is warranted.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a welfarist organization. Indeed, the RSPCA sponsors the Freedom Food Label, an artifice that deludes consumers into thinking that they are buying “happy” meat and animal products. Although the RSPCA praised the Commission’s decision not to postpone the ban, it did at least point out:

While the RSPCA considers ‘enriched’ cages to be a small step forward compared with conventional barren battery cages, they still don’t adequately meet even some of the most basic welfare needs of the birds. This includes not enough room to spread their wings properly or sufficient facilities to dustbathe effectively, leading to frustration and distress.

The RSPCA favors “free-range” and “cage-free” systems, which, of course, cannot be described as “humane” without a grotesque distortion of that word. A review of the information provided on these systems by Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, including its shocking video of “free-range” egg production, should give pause to anyone who would promote these alternative forms of torture. But not even the RSPCA approves of the “enriched” cages that are an option under the EU “ban.”

Another British welfarist organization, Compassion in World Farming, praised the decision not to postpone the EU “ban” in its press release as “a huge success.” But CIWF had previously issued a lengthy document in which CIWF condemned the “enriched” cage system that is permitted under the “ban.” There was no mention of the “enriched” battery cages in the CIWF press release praising the decision not to postpone the “ban.”

And eggs that are produced in conventional battery cages in non-EU countries will still be allowed to be imported anyway.

What are welfarists in the U.S saying about the “ban”?

Although People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims correctly that “[t]he best thing you can do is go vegetarian and to stop eating eggs,” PETA describes the European Union decision as a “[v]ictory for hens” and claims that “[t]he 2012 ban on battery cages is an incredible step for egg laying hens.” There is no mention that the “ban” does not prohibit “enriched” battery cages, which are condemned even by conservative welfare groups.

But then, in the Winter 2007 issue of its magazine, Animal Times, PETA claimed that its “corporate strategy” is helping animals, giving as an example that Safeway, a supermarket chain, “has agreed to advocate for controlled-atmosphere killing’ (CAK)-which puts chickens and turkeys ‘to sleep’ quickly and painlessly-with their poultry suppliers.” (p.3)

And The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has elevated the praise of meaningless welfarist reform to an art form, had this to say:

Humane Society International applauds the European Commission’s landmark decision today to ban barren battery cages as scheduled. The highly significant move for animal welfare shows the intensive farming lobby that public opinion matters.

The European Commission rejected calls by industry lobby groups to delay the ban and instead responded to the wishes of European Union citizens. Some EU member states and some egg industry officials fought for postponement of the ban. Adopted in 1999, The European Union Laying Hens Directive prohibits the use of conventional battery cages beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

“The confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages is among the most cruel and inhumane practices in the world of factory farming. It’s heartening to see the European Commission rejecting calls for a postponement of the 2012 ban. Congratulations to the European citizens and animal advocacy groups who have supported the 2012 ban,” said Wayne Pacelle, The Humane Society of the United States’ President and CEO.

Although HSUS does mention that “enriched” cages can still be used, HSUS inexplicably declares that the Directive “is an important step toward a total ban of cages for laying hens.”

The “ban” is a travesty. Such regulations do nothing more than make the public feel better about exploiting nonhumans. This is yet another attempt to make the public believe that welfarist regulations result in significant and meaningful improvements in the treatment of animals exploited as food.

And this very sad joke is not only on the animals; it is on the consumers of animal products as well. The European Commission cites studies that indicate the increased cost to producers of “enriched” cages will be less than 1 (euro) cent. Producers can more than make up for this slight increase by charging a premium for eggs that are marketed as being more “welfare-friendly.” The Commission has recommended a campaign to encourage consumers to purchase these “happy” eggs. So consumers will end up paying a premium for products from tortured animals.

Animal advocates started this campaign in the 1990s and got the EU to issue a Directive in 1999. The “ban” will not come into force until 2012, and will allow producers to use production systems that not even the conservative welfarist groups of Europe approve. And the “free-range” and “barn” or “cage-free” systems are horrible as well. The “ban” can be avoided entirely by importing eggs from outside the EU that are produced in conventional battery-cage systems. Finally, although the EU rejected calls to postpone the “ban,” it remains to be seen whether powerful EU states, such as France, Spain, and Poland will continue to oppose the ban, necessitating that welfarists continue to spend time, money, and other resources on this meaningless campaign.

If anyone thinks that this campaign was a good use of movement resources, then I disagree. It is clear to me that the time, money, and labor would have been better invested in a clear and unequivocal vegan campaign, rather than confusing the public into thinking that “welfare-friendly” eggs are any more real than unicorns.

Gary L. Francione
© 2008 Gary L. Francione