The Belgian government has advised a ban on all laying-hen cage systems as from 2025. However, EU minimum standards do not offer sufficient guarantees for welfare, reports Eurogroup for Animals, representing a large number of animal welfare organisations within the EU member states.
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, however, 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.