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New Delhi - Female fowls in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan can no longer be kept in cages, under a government order issued on Thursday.
“Confining these birds in restrictive cages and using the eggs layed by them goes against our Buddhist philosophy,” Tashi Dorji, chief livestock officer in the Agriculture Ministry, said over the telephone.
The move was also aimed at restricting large-scale poultry farming, which went against the equitable social and economic development model followed in the country, Dorji added.
About 59 percent of Bhutan's estimated population of 738 267 depends on agriculture and livestock breeding for a livelihood.
The free-range decision was taken in early July but announced on Thursday, which is an auspicious day in the Bhutanese calender, the 13th day of the sixth Buddhist month, Dorji said.
The executive order says any female domesticated chicken, turkey, duck, goose or guinea fowl kept for egg production should not be confined to cages that prevent them from fully stretching their limbs or expressing important natural behaviour.
“Typically, egg factory farms around the world cram billions of egg-laying hens into barren cages so small that the birds cannot even spread there wings,” animal rights group Humane Society International said in a statement.
“Such extreme confinement prevents them from expressing important natural behaviours including perching, nesting or dust bathing,” it said, adding that the Bhutan government's order set high standards for others to emulate.
Bhutan is one of the world's least-developed nations, but has won acclaim for transforming a small economy based on agriculture and tourism into a dynamic one that grew more than 6 percent in 2011.
The country has supplanted the traditional benchmark measure of national wellbeing, gross national product, with what it calls Gross National Happiness (GNH).
In calculating GNH, Bhutan weighs factors such as psychological wellbeing, health, education, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, living standards and good governance. - Sapa-dpa