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Belgium to ban use of cages for egg production


Brussels, 13 August 2009

Belgium to ban use of cages for egg production

Belgian government advised to ban all laying-hen cage systems from 2025, but EU minimum standards do not offer sufficient guarantees for 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. 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 which 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.

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.

For more information, contact Liesbet Dendas (Eurogroup for Animals): +32 2 740 08 90 or Michel Vandenbosch (GAIA): +32 475 452015.

Notes:

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. For more information about Eurogroup, visit www.eurogroupforanimals.org .

In the evaluation committee, experts from all relevant fields were present, including representatives of the poultry industry (Boerenbond, Vlaamse Bedrijfspluimvee- en Konijnenhouderij, Fédération Wallonne de l'Agriculture) , animal welfare organisations (GAIA, Animaux en Péril and Eurogroup for Animals) and science and consumer protection representatives (OIVO). In Belgium, the EU Directive laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens was transposed into a Royal Decree in 2005. The Decree states that the government has to make a decision regarding a follow-up on the EU rules before 1 January 2010.

Battery cages are empty and smaller than an A4 sheet of paper, which forces the birds to live in incredibly cramped environments that almost completely restrict their ability to engage in even the most basic natural behaviour, such as flapping their wings.

Birds that are kept free range and other alternative husbandry systems allow for better welfare. Enriched cages do offer the birds more space (750 cm² as opposed to the mere 550 cm² of an conventional battery cage), and feature litter, perches and claw shortening devices) but still cause welfare concerns as they do not allow the animals to stretch or flap their wings, dustbathe, nor allow for natural head movement.

Studies have consistently shown that European consumers and retailers are increasingly shying away from marketing and purchasing egg products from non-welfare friendly production systems.

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