Public perception is major focus of EU animal agriculture

Illinois Farm Bureau members last week on the IFB European Union animal care study tour received an up-close look at new technology as well as some unique traditions in European animal agriculture.

Farmer Paul Anthonissen herds a Belgian blue bull on his farm near Wuustwezel, Belgium during the IFB EU animal care study tour. The unique breed is double-muscled through genetics,not hormones, according to Anthonissen. In fact, EU farmers have strict restrictions that prohibit the use of growth hormones.
Farmer Paul Anthonissen herds a Belgian blue bull on his farm near Wuustwezel, Belgium during the IFB EU animal care study tour. The unique breed is double-muscled through genetics,not hormones, according to Anthonissen. In fact, EU farmers have strict restrictions that prohibit the use of growth hormones.
Published on: Jul 8, 2013

     The style of livestock production across the Atlantic Ocean ranges from state-of-the-art facilities built for improved animal welfare to livestock genetics/production methods specific to certain regions.

     In most instances, though, the focus of the EU livestock industry across all species seems to be aimed directly at consumer acceptance.

     “The BSE crisis (which was identified in England in 1986) brought incredible awareness of consumer health risks associated with animal ag practices,” Andrea Gavinelli, director of general health and consumers for the EU Commission, told IFB members during a meeting in Brussels.

     EU farmers in the 1990s also battled issues with salmonella in eggs that cost the industry consumer confidence.

     “The EU in the past 20 years spent $50 million in research for animal welfare,” he continued. “We’re looking for indicators of what’s going on and trying to develop a set of tools farmers and vets can use to ensure the animals are happy.”

     The focus on consumer acceptance literally was on display at the Rondeel Egg farm in The Netherlands. Farmer Willy Doezhrs used consumer research to construct a round facility that houses 30,000 laying hens.

     The facility provides a large area with natural light, the comforts of indoor production, artificial grass and nesting perches, and no beak trimming on the birds. The facility, which is open to the public, also features viewing windows so visitors can watch the hens and egg sorting and packing.

     “The round house is something that is preferred by the public,” Doezhrs said. “And it’s open and visible.”

     Rondeel charges a premium for brown eggs compared to organic and free-range eggs.

     However, not all producers are willing to spend extra money for their food. So Doezhrs is planning his future flock size based on consumer buying patterns.

     “This is just niche market,” he said. “We produce to demand.”

     The facility opened last year and so far has hosted about 20,000 visitors, including IFB members.

     Elsewhere, hog farmer Dave Morgan built new “freedom stalls” on his farm to give hogs more space but also relies on traditional techniques, such as straw bedding, for animal comfort and consumer acceptance on his farm in East Yorkshire, England.

     Morgan receives premiums from a local retailer to maintain the labor intensive facility.

     “We were chosen to be a pig concept farm,” Morgan said. “We are pretty welfare friendly. Our goal is to have an indoor system with the positive attributes of an outdoor system.”

     Farmers at other locations in Europe continue to maintain traditions preferred by consumers.

     Paul Anthonissen, a third generation farmer in Belgium, raises unique double-muscled Belgian blue cows preferred in the area.

     The unique animals, which appear to be pumped up on steroids, actually acquired the double-muscling through years of genetic selection.

     “It’s all natural,” Anthonissen said. “We focus more on quality than quantity.”

     All of the calves must be identified, via two ear tags, within 48 hours of birth. No growth hormones are allowed, Anthonissen added.