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Layer Cage Ban in Prospect for Belgium

by 5m Editor
14 August 2009, at 12:22pm

BELGIUM - A stakeholders' committee has advised the Belgian Health Minister to bring in a ban on all cage systems for laying hens in the country by 2025. It was their opinion that the EU ban on conventional battery cages does not go far enough for good animal welfare.

Millions of laying hens may be set to benefit from better housing following the conclusions of a stakeholders committee set up to advise the Belgian Health Minister, Laurette Onkelinx, on the application of EU law on laying hens, according to Eurogroup for Animals.

The EU Directive demands a ban on the use of battery cages from 2012 but will still allow the use of enriched cages. Animal welfare organisations oppose all cages, including enriched cages, as they do not permit hens to act according to their natural behaviour and cause numerous welfare problems.

The committee, which consists of producers, consumer and animal welfare groups, including Eurogroup for Animals and its Belgian member organisation GAIA, considered the welfare aspects and economical aspects of caging systems.

Three options for the future of laying-hen welfare in Belgium were on the table:

  • applying the EU law and thus banning conventional cages from 2012, thereby allowing enriched cages
  • strengthening the standards for enriched cages, or
  • a complete shift to alternative egg-laying systems such as barn or free range, which offer better welfare guarantees.

Eurogroup and GAIA are pleased with the committee's advice, which is a first step towards achieving the Belgian legislation that is due to be in place before 1 January 2010.

Eurogroup for Animals director, Sonja Van Tichelen, and GAIA president, Michel Vandenbosch, both expressed regret that a complete ban on cage systems could not be introduced earlier than 2025, due to a former decision by the Belgian government that granted a phase-out period of 15 years.

The cage ban proposed by the committee is linked to certain prerequisites relating to the sanitary conditions of alternative systems and the preservation of Belgian producers' competitiveness. Both animal-welfare groups are, however, confident that these requirements will be fulfilled.

Eurogroup for Animals says that EU citizens are clearly opposed to the keeping of hens in cages and consumers no longer want to buy cage eggs. Most retailers in Belgium have already accepted this trend and now sell only free-range or barn eggs. Eurogroup for Animals and GAIA will work to ensure that the remaining European retailers and food producers follow suit

Eurogroup for Animals represents animal welfare organisations of nearly all EU Member States, including Belgian Member Organisation GAIA. Since it was launched in 1980, the organisation has succeeded in encouraging the European Union to adopt higher legal standards for animal protection, including the 1999 Directive concerning the protection of laying hens.