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Manitoba Goes It Alone On Alternative Hen Housing

“We would have liked to have more consultation.”

– LAURENT SOULIGNY, EFC

Egg Farmers of Canada will let Manitoba go its own way on requiring larger cages for layer hens while still working toward a national policy on alternative housing.

EFC appears resigned to Manitoba’s recent policy requiring new layer operations to use alternative housing systems, starting eight years from now.

“Every province has the right to do their own thing,” said Laurent Souligny, EFC chairman, during a July 6 board meeting in Winnipeg.

But EFC is still a little unhappy that Manitoba didn’t confer with other provinces before announcing its policy earlier this year.

“We would have liked to have more consultation with Manitoba before making a decision like that,” Souligny said.

Manitoba Egg Farmers last March surprised the industry by announcing new animal welfare standards which could ultimately mean the phasing out of battery cages in the province.

Starting in 2018, new and renovated egg barns must support the so-called “Five Freedoms” for farm animals. The key one is the freedom for animals to express their normal behaviour.

For layer hens, that means the ability to nest, roost and perch.

The policy does not spell out exactly which systems to use. But it’s generally taken to mean enriched cages, which include space and equipment to permit those activities.

“SURPRISE”

Souligny said EFC is not against the Manitoba program, just the way it came in without discussion.

“It came up as a surprise for everybody.”

But Kurt Siemens, Manitoba Egg Farmers chairman, said while the national agency establishes a tone for animal welfare, provinces have the right to set their own standards.

“You have to look at it differently in different regions and in different areas,” Siemens said.

He said the program was announced suddenly March 10 because incorrect information about it leaked out at a March 4 producer meeting in Saskatchewan and MEF rushed to set the record straight for its own producers.

MEF signalled a move toward alternative housing in late 2009 by granting three new producers 6,000 quota units (hens) each through a free draw, provided they use enriched cages. Siemens said they could be in production by late 2010.

Both Siemens and Souligny spoke during a break in the EFC board meeting held as part of the National Egg Producer Conference.

Souligny said EFC is developing a national policy on alternate housing as part of a four-year strategic industry plan currently in progress.

A draft copy refers to the need for “continuous improvement of animal-care practices” and expanding “the work with the animal-care scientific community on housing and husbandry practices.”

EFC already has a voluntary animal welfare program under its “Start Clean Stay Clean” on-farm food safety program.

The agency expects to examine enriched colony systems in a proposed industry research initiative discussed at last week’s meeting.

But enriched cages must suit Canadian conditions and cannot be copied from Europe, where battery cages will be banned after 2012, said Peter Clarke, who chairs EFC’s research committee.

NO RESENTMENT

Clarke, a producer from Nova Scotia, said he doesn’t expect EFC to have a mandatory policy on alternative housing systems.

“We always leave it up to producers to make their own decisions in regards to what they want to do,” he said.

“We will not try to force these things on them unless for some reason we felt it was absolutely necessary. People need to make these choices for themselves.”

Although EFC members expres sed concern about Manitoba’s alternative housing policy, the attitude toward the province was markedly different than it was 10 years ago, when the same conference was held in the same Winnipeg hotel.

Back then, provinces voiced anger toward Manitoba for placing more layers for processing eggs than allowed.

This time there’s no such hostility, said Siemens.

“I don’t feel any resentment around the table.” [email protected]

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