Most of Malta’s local egg production may go out of business if the EU Commission’s pledge to blanket ban cage-farmed chickens becomes a reality, MEP candidate Peter Agius said on Friday.

By the end of 2023, the European Commission plans to table a legislative proposal that will seek to phase out and eventually prohibit cage systems for certain animals which includes egg-laying hens. 

“We don’t even have enough green space for people, let alone for chickens,” third-generation chicken farmer Clive Vella said at the prospect of having to expand his cage-based operation.

“We are one of the biggest farms in Malta and we won’t survive. No one will survive. There is no option for survival.”

While many of Vella’s stock is not within the egg-laying window, at any one point the farm hosts around 70,000 chickens across 4,000 square metres of land as Vella utilises the space by stacking the cages on top of each other.

In Malta, there are currently some 40 egg-laying hen farms with similar practices that will have to find new land to expand onto as each of them competes for limited island space that currently sits at €100,000 per 1,000 square metres, Agius said.

Yet, past the initial costs of purchasing the land, farmers would then need to invest in buildings to house the animals – a mandatory regulation, Vella said.

“There is not enough land and the land that there is, is too expensive.”

Even if the land is affordable, Vella said, a lot of the possible expansion space is part of the Outside Development Zone, meaning chicken farmers will not be able to build housing for their stock.

The legislation is not limited to chickens but also to pig and rabbit farms, making the already precious land an even smaller resource.

'The end of local eggs'

“It is noble in its intent that chickens are kept in a humane way, but the impact of this legislation on Malta needs to be taken into consideration,” Agius told the Times of Malta.

In an open letter to the Agriculture European Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and Health European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, Agius explained that while the “intended objectives of the law may undoubtedly be noble,” a complete ban on cage-farmed egg-laying chickens may “disproportionately prejudice food security”.

“Farmers will probably have to double or triple their space,” Agius said, which comes at dire costs.

In his letter, Agius explains that, while the initiative will impact all EU countries as farmers will need to expand their property to accommodate their stock, the cost for Maltese farmers far exceeds their European neighbours.

For a Polish farmer, the average cost to extend their farm by 5 hectares (50,000 square metres) is €15,000, while the same amount of land would cost local farmers approximately €500,000.

“It is therefore evident that the law being considered by the European Commission risks putting the Maltese farmer at a competitive disadvantage in a way that under no circumstance can it compete in the profitability of his enterprise,” Agius wrote. 

“This may be the end for local eggs,” Agius said.

An initiative titled End the Cage Age received over 1,000,000 signatures before it was submitted to the European Commission in October 2020. In June 2021, it was discussed in European Parliament as they expressed their full support for the initiative. 

By the end of 2023, the commission have promised to table the proposed legislation which, following a transitionary period, will come into full effect by 2027, Agius said.

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