Landsbond Pluimvee, an organisation that advocates for poultry farmers, has sent a letter to Federal Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) asking him to act against break-ins by animal rights organisations.
“This is private property that is being illegally entered in order to shoot illegal footage. And it’s being done in times of bird flu, when it’s forbidden by law to allow outsiders on the farm,” the interest group wrote.
Just before Christmas, Belgian animal welfare organisation GAIA released undercover images taken at four West Flemish turkey farms, mentioning them by name in an accompanying press release.
The images depicted “thousands of turkeys crowded together, severely weakened, crippled, injured and dying; and even corpses in an advanced state of decomposition,” and language used in the press release indicated that GAIA’s “investigation team” had “visited” the farms.
“If ‘visiting’ equals illegally entering company premises and breaking into company buildings, and ‘an investigation team’ is a nicer word for burglars, then I think we can say that there is no longer any question of morality,” Martijn Chombaere, policy officer at Landsbond Pluimvee said.
“We also have to conclude that this is the umpteenth time this has happened.”
Concerns about bird flu
Many of Belgium’s poultry farms have been under a series of lockdowns related to the spread of bird flu, as Europe experiences its worst outbreak ever of the virus.
Twenty-four countries worldwide refused to accept poultry imports from Belgium, and after briefly being declared “bird flu free” last summer, outbreaks across the country have once shut down hobby farms.
“The animal rights organisation does not realise the risk that such a break-in poses to the health status of a farm,” said Martijn Chombaere, Policy officer Landsbond Pluimvee.
“Today we are in a situation with a constant threat of highly pathogenic bird flu. As a result, it is even prohibited by law to allow persons who are not essential to the operation of the business to gain access to the business premises.”
Chombaere points out that animal welfare organisations are repeat offenders when it comes to trespassing, which is why the organisation is asking Minister Van Quickenborne to intervene.
They say that GAIA and other organisations aren’t interested in engaging in dialogue with the farms they investigate.
“This makes us strongly question to what extent animal welfare is really important to them and whether they are not more interested in attracting as much attention as possible in order to generate extra income,” the organisation wrote.
In response to the allegations of abuse, they said it would be ridiculous for poultry farmers to neglect their animals: “Unhealthy animals will never produce good technical results, which would have a negative impact on their income,” Chombaere said.
“That does not mean that there are no problems, just as with hobby farmers – after all, they are still living animals. In such groups there will always be an animal that is in poor health. That is no different for humans, we think.”