GAIA welcomes new animal welfare revision, but notes shortfalls

GAIA welcomes new animal welfare revision, but notes shortfalls

18 July 2023

GAIA welcomes the new Flemish Animal Welfare legislation, saying it is a clear step forward for animal welfare but which has a number of major shortcomings which must be addressed. The revision was announced by Flemish Animal Welfare Minister Ben Weyts and agreed by the Flemish Government on Friday.

In addition to all the existing bans on slaughter without stunning, wild animals in circuses, fur farming, street horse racing, force-feeding for foie gras production, rabbits in individual battery cages and compulsory sterilisation of cats, as well as other regulations, the Flemish Animal Welfare Code contains important new provisions for which GAIA has been campaigning for many years:

  1. Ban on all cage systems for laying hens:

Ban for new businesses from 01/01/2024. For existing businesses, the ban takes effect from 01/01/2036. "Of course, we would have preferred the 12-year transition period to be much shorter, but the principle of the ban is legally supported by a clear perspective for change (switch to free-range systems): no more caged laying hens by 1 January 2036 at the latest!" commented Michel Vandenbosch, President of GAIA.

  1. Ban on keeping cetaceans in captivity:

We welcome the ban on imports and breeding BUT an exception has been made (conditional derogation) for Boudewijn Seapark, which is still allowed to keep a maximum of 6 dolphins on condition that an outdoor dolphin tank is built by 2027. If an assessment concludes that there is an operational alternative, such as a sanctuary, which offers the dolphins a better level of comfort and quality of life, the dolphins will have to be transferred to this site. The first assessment is not due until 2037, which means that these changes will not be implemented until then. We believe that a waiting period of more than 13 years is too long for the dolphins.

"I don't see why the dolphins in Bruges couldn't be transferred immediately if a more appropriate environment where they can spend the rest of their lives can be found sooner,” commented Michel Vandenbosch.

  1. Mandatory shelter for all animals (previously only equines) from 01/01/2029.
  2. A general ban on the home slaughter of pigs, goats and sheep.
  3. Livestock markets will be banned (with the exception of annual markets, such as the Torhout horse market and the Sint-Lievens-Houtem livestock market).
  4. The culling of male day-old chicks will be banned, but this ban will be subject to the development of an in-egg detection technique. However, this technique is already being used successfully. Eggs selected using this technique can already be found on the shelves of certain Belgian supermarkets (Bioplanet, for example).
  5. There will be an animal-oriented police service in each police zone.
  6. Ban on killing animals for folk practices/events.
  7. A ban on the use of  glue traps to control supposedly harmful animals.
  8. Standstill principle: new animal welfare laws and regulations cannot be rolled back.
  9. Animals are explicitly recognised as living beings with inherent sentience and value.
  10. The breeding of fighting cocks will be banned.
  11. Centres for exotic and wild animals will be given a specific status: they will no longer be equated with zoos because they are different in their philosophy and objectives.

GAIA regrets the following shortcomings in the Code:

The Code does not prohibit the cruel surgical castration of piglets. The most animal-friendly alternatives will not be compulsory and pig farmers are allowed to decide which alternative suits them best. In addition, there is no transition period set.

  • Another negative point is that it will not be forbidden to cook live lobsters or cut them in half, but a legal basis has been created for this. 
  • There is no ban on animal testing for cleaning products.
  • The Code still allows laboratories to keep animals captured in the wild. Given the scientifically proven impact of capturing wild animals on the decline of species, and the increasing risk of transmission of viruses from wild animals to humans, we should expect scientific research laboratories to stop importing wild animals for animal testing, at least for safety reasons. So why is this practice still allowed?

"With this Code, we are already making significant progress and obtaining new legislation for which we have been campaigning for years. With the standstill principle explicitly mentioned, the Flemish Code indicates the direction in which regulations must evolve in the interests of animals: gradually and without going backwards.”

Michel Vandenbosch, President of GAIA

Significant progress, but much remains to be done

"The same applies to long transition periods," adds GAIA. "The legal settlement of the dolphin issue also provides for unreasonable delays. In any case, the Animal Welfare Code offers a legal perspective that will (in the long and short term) put an end to certain persistent forms of organised animal cruelty and avoidable animal suffering that GAIA has been fighting against for yearsEven with this Code, there is still a lot of work to be done."

It is regrettable, however, that the Code does not prohibit, among other things, a practice as cruel as the castration of piglets, which causes clearly avoidable suffering to millions of piglets.