Pigs must be able to root, rabbits must be able to dig, ducks must be able to swim and birds must be able to fly. Also in a barn, cage or run, animals must be able to show their natural behaviour from 1 January 2023, as stipulated by the amendment of the Dieren Act.
The amendment was adopted by both chambers last week, but it is only now that the consequences are getting through to animal owners. Farmers, as well as hobby farmers, fear the consequences.
‘End of rogue breeding. ‘
“ I was freaked out when I read about the law,” says Chris van Hout, owner of some fifty Australian finches. “Would this mean the end of the hobby of so many people? I think there are 50, 60,000 people who have an aviary at home and thus have fun keeping birds.”
Farmers‘ organization LTO is not happy either. President Sjaak van der Tak: “Can the Dutchman keep his dog on the leash or not? A rabbit, can he or may not run? Our 14,000 farmers also say that: what does it mean for our pigs?”
People with pets have little to worry, says Esther Ouwehand, group chairman of the Dieren Party, the author of the amendment. “Of course you can leash your dog. And the police won’t come to see what your rabbit hutch looks like. What will not be allowed anymore is to keep your dog on a rope 24 hours a day and never walk.”
“ Pet breeders will also have to comply with this law. That means an end to the rogue breeders who keep dogs locked up all their lives just to produce puppies for Marketplace.”
The new law has the greatest consequences for professional livestock farming. For example, pig farmers will probably have to stop cutting pigtails. They are often removed, despite a European ban since 1991, because fattening pigs living close to each other would otherwise bite each other‘s tails out of boredom.
“ Intensive livestock farming has done a bit of procrastination,” says Ouwehand. “By this law, we are not going to adapt animals to the system, but the system to the animals. Farmers will have to adjust stables: more space, more distraction so that the problem of boredom is solved.”
She mentions another example. “Ducks are not built to stand on dry land 24 hours a day. The skeleton can’t stand that at all. But ducks are not allowed to go outside in the Dutch ducks and there is no water. Those animals have pain, inflammation. That‘s really going to have to change now.”
But LTO doubts whether the law promotes animal welfare. “Our farmers now also stand for animal welfare,” says Van der Tak. Moreover, the law is “unclear and unsound”, he thinks. “The House of Representatives should no longer adopt this kind of legislation, because it is unclear for the Dutchman, but certainly also for the farmer.”
Minister Carola Schouten of Agriculture and Nature was also against the law. She found the amendment ‘open and broadly worded ‘.
But for Ouwehand it is quite clear: “This means the end for intensive livestock farming as we know it now. The stables have to be converted. A small but growing group of farmers has already switched over.”
According to Ouwehand, the amendment of the law should not have been a surprise for other farmers. “It’s a very old political promise. The law is based on a report from 2001 that said it really must be different in livestock farming. Cabinet Purple II, including VVD, took over that and then Balkenende IV with CDA minister Verburg. Surely these are not the biggest animal rights activists in history.”
Minister Schouten has to investigate how she‘s going to implement the law. Before the summer break, she will come up with more information about this.
And the finches? “They reproduce and then I say: they will have a good time,” says Van Hout. “I can’t ask them, but I can tell by the behavior. They sing, they whistle.”
Ouwehand: “If they are really well and their well-being is central, no one has to fear anything. But, and I think he knows that, permanently locking birds in a cage is just not such a good idea. Birds are animals to fly.”