The Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee on Monday rejected an Agriculture Ministry proposal for stricter legislation on chicken battery cages.

Animal rights activists praised the panel’s move.

The ministry proposal would mandate that battery cage cells be no smaller than 750 square centimeters – the minimum under European regulations – by seven years following the passage of such a reform.

Most chicken coops in Israel confine animals to about 300 to 350 square centimeters of space and do not meet veterinary and environmental standards, according to the ministry.

“The chickens still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the ministry said.

The Agriculture Ministry reform would also allow breeders to choose whatever type of coop they wish – aviaries, free range, organic or cages – as long as they meet the minimum requirements of the industry and bring a high standard of health and sanitation to their animals.

The expanded cages would cost about NIS 2-4 extra per month for a family of five whose members each consume 250 eggs per year, the ministry estimated.

The ministry would provide special grants to breeders who choose to raise their chickens in aviaries, rather than cages, funding 10 percent of their costs the first year and 5% the following years.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and animal rights groups responded positively to the committee’s decision to reject the proposal, as the regulations would not take effect for years and only achieve minimal reform.

“When they finally go to advance this reform, the minimal thing that it is necessary to demand is that we do not fall below the European standards,” Erdan said. He stressed that a clause to protect animal welfare that would take a decade to go into effect was akin to “the burial of its implementation.”

“I am pleased that the committee accepted my request to not only consider the calculations of the Agriculture Ministry, which on one hand is responsible for increasing agricultural profits, but on the other hand is also responsible for an animal welfare law.”

The dismissal of the proposal will provide more time to the various parties involved with implementing legislation on behalf of the animals, Erdan said.

Activist group Anonymous for Animal Rights criticized the ministry for submitting the same reform to the committee for the seventh time, without making any substantive improvements in its plans.

“We hope that the ministry will stop walking with its head in the sand and wasting the time of Knesset members, and will agree to developing advanced methods of breeding that are less harmful,” Anonymous spokesman Ronen Bar said, noting that such conditions are banned in 32 countries.

“A chicken in a cage is held in threatening crowdedness, and for two years cannot flap its wings or even stand comfortably.”

Such methods, according to Bar, are “cruel and unnecessary,” especially when a similar sized and cheaper priced option of aviary coops exists.

“As far as animal rights organizations are concerned, aviaries are a painful compromise between free-range coops and battery cages, but are the right and realistic choice for today’s situation,” Bar said.

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