Tuesday 14 November 2023 | 0

Cage hens: during the hearing before the State Council, the public reporter proves NGOs right

Cage hens: during the hearing before the State Council, the public reporter proves NGOs right

Mis à jour le 29 February 2024

Nine animal protection organisations asked the State Council for the partial cancellation of the decree of 15 December 2021 relating to the redevelopment of breeding buildings for caged laying hens. On Friday afternoon during the public session, the reporter appealed to the supreme administrative court to follow NGOs’ requests by cancelling this decree that “amounts to making cage breeding viable”. She added that “retaining a restrictive interpretation of redevelopment would not necessarily serve the economic interests of the sector” while “eliminating cages seems inevitable”.

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An awkward commitment for the government...

In 2017, during his presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron made “a commitment to banning the sale of eggs laid by battery hens before 2022”. In Rungis, during his speech as President, he reiterated his commitment and promise that “eggs sold to consumers will only come from free-range farms by 2022”.

In 2018, the Egalim law meant that almost all of the amendments aiming to ban this farming system were wiped out. The only one that remains is the ban on new or redeveloped buildings for caged hens. This minor step forward is still pending since the Ministry of Agriculture, who initially delayed in issuing an implementing decree and only complied after having been forced to do so by the State Council, published a law in December 2021 that reduced the scope of the ban and which NGOs have therefore decided to attack.

And as a result: we have discovered that the government was working with the industry to limit the idea of redeveloping only to redeveloped buildings that would increase their production capacity, showing contempt for and twisting the terms of the law in a scandalous way. The Minister of Agriculture at the time, Stéphane Travert, effectively made this promise to lobbies in the industry, in a letter that the CIWF was able to present to the administrative tribunal… after two years of proceedings!

The 9 NGOs fighting it out

The contentious decree shows what “constitutes a building redevelopment:

  • 1° Works or improvements to an existing building to make it suitable for farming using laying hens in cages;
  • 2° Works or improvements to an existing building leading to an increase in the number of laying hens who can be kept there in cages. ”

On 10 February 2022, 9 French NGOs, from the coalition that led to the historic success of the European Citizens’ Initiative “for an era without cages”, filed a joint request before the State Council and asked for the cancellation of these paragraphs.

For the NGOs making the request, it was about the illegal restriction of the notion of redevelopment, given that the manager for a building that was already used for breeding caged laying hens could undertake all work and construction, whatever the consequences might be, and escape the ban on redevelopment of article L. 214-11 of the rural and maritime fishing code, on the simple condition that they continue to keep the same number of laying hens.

They believe that the Egalim legal text is very clear: a redevelopment is not an extension. If not, an existing building for breeding in cages could be entirely renovated to be identical and the cages would go back into production for 20 years!

Hope in the decree to come from the State Council

Today, on 10 November 2023, during the hearing, the public reporter defended the partial cancellation of the decree before the State Council as asked for by the NGOs. She believed that “the decree is ignorant to the objective intended by the law”. Citing parliamentary debates and the views expressed by the Minister and the French President, she considered that “the law aimed at putting an end to breeding in cages to respond to society’s expectations while leaving breeders time to adapt to these changes”. For the public reporter, “the cap is clearly set by the law, and the decree contravenes this by allowing reinvestment” while “article L214-11 specifically aims to allow a progressive transition in order to avoid a full-force brutal banning measure.” She decided on the cancellation of the decree which “goes back to making cage breeding viable”. Moreover, she stated that “retaining a restrictive interpretation of redevelopment would not necessarily serve the economic interests of the sector” while “eliminating cages seems unavoidable”.

The State Council must decide. They will deliver their ruling within a few weeks.

Agathe Gignoux, legal affairs manager at CIWF France stated: “NGOs have all their hopes on the decree that will be ruled on by the State Council after today’s hearing, so that the ways in which the government attempted to obstruct the progress expected by citizens and obtained in parliament will be sanctioned. We would expect the government to support transitions rather than perpetuate systems that lead French breeding to an impasse”.

For Frédéric Freund, Director at the OABA [a French organisation for the protection of farm animals]: "the public reporter’s opinion is a significant setback for the Ministry of Agriculture who persists, and has done for several years, in ignoring animal protection NGOs’ constructive comments regarding regulatory laws that are presented to them for their opinions, during meetings at the CNOPSAV (French national guidance council for animal and plant health policies)."

Translated from the French by Joely Justice

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