“I have no idea why they went about it this way.”
– LAURENT SOULIGNY, EFC
Manitoba’s new policy on alternative housing for layer hens has caught Canada’s other egg-producing provinces by surprise.
Manitoba did not consult with other members of Egg Farmers of Canada before announcing its policy last week, said Laurent Souligny, the national agency’s chairman.
“I have no idea why they went about it this way,” Souligny said.
The policy announced at the Manitoba Egg Farmers annual meeting March 10 requires all new and retrofitted egg operations in the province to use enriched cages or other alternative forms of housing, beginning in 2018.
The facilities must provide for the so-called Five Freedoms for farm animals: freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; freedom from fear and distress.
The freedoms were introduced in Europe in the 1960s and revised in the 1990s. Animal welfare groups use them as a standard in calling for changes to animal husbandry practices.
Souligny said the MEF policy caught him off guard.
“For me, the next thing to do is try to find out why they came out with the decision,” he said.
“It is something that we will need to discuss here at EFC with the other provincial boards.”
The issue could threaten to revive a decade-old complaint by other provinces that MEF sometimes acts unilaterally in egg policy matters.
That was the case in 2000 when provinces accused Manitoba of illegally placing extra layers for a special industrial egg program.
Souligny said he didn’t expect divisions around the EFC board table this time. The issue isn’t so much what Manitoba did as the way it did it, he said.
“Of course it would have been better if we would have had that discussion before this happened. But we were not aware that they were discussing (it).”
Canada’s egg producers follow an industry code of practice as part of a national on-farm food safety program. By adopting its Five Freedoms policy, Manitoba may have raised the bar for animal welfare.
“It surely does put pressure on other provinces,” Souligny said.
The issue is bound to come up at EFC’s annual meeting in Ottawa March 24.
“I’m sure there will be some discussion about this,” said Souligny.
Kurt Siemens, MEF’s national director, said MEF didn’t approach EFC for a national policy because it wanted a made-in-Manitoba model for alternative housing.
“When you’re developing policy that pertains to Manitoba, I would think it would be appropriate that we try and figure out how best to deal with it and how to work with it here in Manitoba first and then go forward from there.”
Siemens, a producer from Rosenort, said his board had been working on the policy for months before word about it leaked out at a March 4 producer meeting in Saskatchewan. MEF then rushed to get the policy out to its own producers in time for the March 10 meeting in Winnipeg.
“We wanted our producers to hear it from us and not through the rumour mill,” he said. [email protected]