Millions of citizens are calling on the European Union's incoming leaders to take bold action against the use of cages in livestock farming and endorse a "fair, healthy and ethical" food system.
Animal rights campaigners gathered in the heart of the European quarter on 8 October to celebrate a record-breaking European Citizens Initiative (ECI) launched in September 2018.
Over the course of one year, the initiative gathered more than 1.6 million signatures across 21 different member states, marking a new record-breaking achievement, as no other ECI had garnered such widespread support across the bloc.
Around a hundred people gathered on Rond Point Schuman to celebrate the ECI's success, with the roundabout decorated with a large statue of a cage-free pig and large screens put up to show millions of more citizens celebrating it on Twitter.
"Awareness is rising across Europe, things are changing," Eleonora Evi, an Italian MEP, said in an address to the crowd, adding that the European institutions must "listen to the millions of voices" rising for the cause.
The success of the initiative, dubbed End the Cage Age, was the result of joint efforts by millions of citizens and 170 organisations across Europe, with several of their representatives sharing the stage with MEPs supporting the cause at the event.
"Consumers are calling out for fair, healthy, and ethically produced food," a representative of Food Watch Germany said, adding that diet choices were personal but that consumers were owed "the right to make a fair choice" when it came to their food.
'Million of voices can no longer be ignored'
Among the millions of signatories, the event's organisers extended a personal invitation to Angelina Berlingò, an Italian citizen who single-handedly collected over 2,000 signatures and whose speech in Italian received enthusiastic cheering and applause.
Berlingò said learning about the industry's methods was like "a punch in the stomach" which pushed her to take action in her hometown.
"I come from Calabria, in Southern Italy — a region still not open enough to a culture of respect towards animals," she said. "Many people got over their initial scepticism and signed, and I am very proud of the results."
For signatory Ieva Galkyte, a 26-year-old Brussels resident from Lithuania, the ECI is a promising "first and important step" in reducing animal cruelty in the farming industry and a sign that people across Europe "actually care" for the cause.
"There have been many initiatives like this but not a lot which actually gathered over a million signatures, so that is why this campaign is important," she said, adding that she was believed it would have a "positive outcome."
Tilly Metz, a Luxembourgish green party MEP said the widespread support gathered by the initiative would serve as a tool to push European leaders into action, saying that the millions of voices behind the initiative could "no longer be ignored."
Before yielding concrete results, the ECI must go through a lengthy political process which will start with the verification of the signatures by each member state as the EU Commission prepares a written response to the initiative, which it has three months to produce.
After this process, the ECI is set to be discussed in a series of parliamentary hearings which must include civil society members from at least seven different EU states, in a process which is expected to kick off by autumn 2020.
Among representatives on the industry, the campaign received the support of Slow Food, an international group promoting locally produced food.
According to Olga Kikou of Compassion in World Farming EU, the ECI was also supported by ARC2020, an organisation of over a hundred organisations pushing to reform the EU's common agricultural policy (PAC).
"As expected, the agribusiness industry does not support this initiative," Kikou said in an email statement.
Contacted for comment, the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) said that, as a small organisation whose members met a limited number of times per year, no common position on the subject had been established.
The Brussels Times