News update:Aug 14, 2009

Belgium: Many layer farms may miss deadline

As from 1 January, 2012, battery cages for layer hens will be banned in the EU. Most Belgian poultry producers won't make that switch in time, warns Ilka Hertogs, secretary at the Flemish Industry Poultry and Rabbit Producers (Vepek).

The latest Vepek year review indicates that at present, 206 out of 345 Belgian layer farms still use cage systems. Jointly, the Belgian layer farms have just over 9 mln layers. Currently, over 7.5 mln are still kept in cages. Within 3 years, however, layers will be allowed to be housed in an 'enriched cages', which is a more animal-friendly variety of the battery cage.

Not ready

In 2008, Vepek noticed 139 layer farms, having moved to alternative housing systems: 31 had moved to a biological method; 53 opted for free-range layers (with a possibility for the poultry to go outside); and 55 chose a conventional free-range system. Hertogs, however, expects the majority of the poultry producers will not be ready in time for meeting European requirements.

"This is partly due to a lack of clarity about future regulations with respect to animal welfare. In the disastrous financial situation, in the years after the Avian Influenza crisis in 2003, it was difficult for poultry producers to invest as well. In addition, many producers are faced with the problem that their current poultry houses are relatively new, which doesn't make new investments logical. They will continue using the current houses."

Market conditions

Switching layer farmers are often unlucky with regards to market conditions. Banks are not always keen to supply confirmations, and it is often difficult to obtain permits. "We have successfully called for more flexible distance requirements for poultry production, but that does not mean all obstacles are out of the way," Hertogs says.
She does not give her opinion on a favourite housing type. In a brochure, in Dutch more can be read about the new regulations and alternative housing systems.

Natalie Berkhout

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