Animal welfare organizations and several Knesset members slammed Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir on Tuesday, claiming his ministry inadequately enforces the Animal Welfare Law.
They spoke at a Knesset Education Committee meeting on the subject called due to a number of alleged recent animal abuse cases, including incidents at a Tnuva Adom Adom cattle slaughterhouse exposed in December 2012 and at a Solgowek chicken slaughterhouse in October 2013.
Shamir (Yisrael Beytenu) and his colleagues from the Agriculture Ministry stressed that huge amounts of money have been invested over the years in animal rights enforcement.
Representatives of NGOs and several Knesset members argued that the efforts have been inadequate.
“We must tighten supervision and impose harsher sentences upon animal abusers,” Education Committee chairman Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) said.
At Mitzna’s request, Shamir and Agriculture Ministry director-general Rami Cohen presented a review of his office’s animal rights monitoring and enforcement activities since the Animal Welfare Law was enacted in 1994. Among the activities they presented were the allocation of NIS 20 million for the widespread neutering and spaying of stray cats and dogs, as well as upgrading urban kennels and rescuing horses and donkeys. Shamir and Cohen presented the progress that has occurred in implementing regulations to protect animals and to launch site performance reviews and enforcement.
Emphasizing that handling animal welfare cases is a top priority of the ministry, Shamir and Cohen said there were 131 site evaluations of slaughterhouses in 2013.
Since the year 2012, 175 cases dealing with animal rights have been opened, 21 indictments have been issued, 184 administrative penalties were imposed, 234 cases were handled and 74 were closed, the officials said.
MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Dov Henin (Hadash) and Eitan Cabel (Labor) called for the transfer of enforcement and supervisory authority over animal rights issues to the Environmental Protection Ministry.
In November 2013, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu established a team to examine whether the Agriculture Ministry or the Environmental Protection Ministry should oversee the Animal Welfare Law.
“Many of the achievements presented by the Agriculture Ministry in the opening of the discussion were accomplished only after private bills took effect or after pressure from social organizations,” Zandberg said. “The Agriculture Ministry is an economic ministry whose goal is to represent the interests of the animal industry.”
Henin said that such “a conflict of interest” requires the transfer of powers to the Environment Ministry.
“It is unacceptable that the guard is also the butcher,” Cabel said.
Eti Altman, founder of the organization Let Animals Live, said Shamir had not once met with the animal rights groups since he took office. Mitzna also recommended to Shamir that he meet with members of the organizations, stressing the importance of engaging with the public.
Ronen Bar, an activist for Anonymous for Animal Rights, told committee meeting participants of the need for transparency in agricultural facilities.
“MK Cabel sent a request to the minister to broadcast photos from slaughterhouse supervisions online,” Bar said. “The minister said it was disproportionate and unreasonable.”
Former MK Avraham Poraz, who was among the sponsors of the Animal Welfare Law, said that although he feels the law should fall within the Environment Ministry’s authority, he was in favor of giving Shamir a chance.
Voicing support for the Agriculture Ministry, Prof. Alex Tsafriri – a professor emeritus in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s biological regulation department and a key figure in the public debate on animal experimentation – said the Agriculture Ministry successfully “strikes a balance between human needs and the needs of the animal.”
Shamir, meanwhile, thanked the NGOs for participating, and encouraged them to continue doing their work.
“There is an inherent conflict of interest between man and animal, and we will find the appropriate balance,” he said.