bird flu 88.
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A committee of government ministers is examining whether to expand compensation to include profits chicken farmers expected to make and losses to slaughterhouses and hatcheries.
Both the ultimate costs of such options and the expected date of the committee's decision were unknown.
According to current legislation, only direct losses to poultry farmers resulting from the destruction of their flock will be compensated, Agriculture Ministry Director-General Yossi Yishai told a special session of the Knesset Economy Committee on Tuesday.
NIS 15 million was approved Monday to compensate poultry farmers for destroyed stock, the Finance Ministry said.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, current legislation provides for a maximum compensation amount of NIS 100 per turkey and NIS 12 per chicken, depending on the birds' age, condition and other factors.
Poultry Farmers Association chairman Yaakov Cohen told the committee his organization was expecting "unprecedented damages" to the poultry industry. Indirect losses of the kind not currently covered were expected to be greater than direct losses resulting from the birds' destruction, he said.
The poultry sector, which produces NIS 3.5 billion worth of product annually, provides a livelihood for more than 10,000 workers, Cohen said, as he called on the committee to make the government allocate additional resources for compensation. Meretz and Labor Knesset members added their voices to his demand. Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, meanwhile, called for an investigation of the Agriculture Ministry for possible mishandling of the affair and not sufficiently preparing for the arrival of the avian flu in Israel.
Yishai, however, told the committee there was no shortage of manpower for the culling and burial of the fowl, rejecting criticism of his ministry's handling of the crisis. The authorities had recruited eight contractors with hundreds of workers to cull and bury the chickens and other birds affected, he said.
According to standing laws, culling and disposing of affected birds is the responsibility of the farmers themselves, but the government ministers' committee is also investigating the possibility of providing state funding, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Ministry said. Various parties are involved in the present efforts to curb the epidemic's spread, and it was not yet clear how accounts would be settled, she indicated.
Eshkol Regional Council President Ori Naamati, however, said that "if tomorrow the epidemic is discovered in 20 more epicenters, there will not be enough available manpower to handle it."
"Despite the optimistic announcements of the government ministries, the affected area is not completely sealed," he said, expressing his displeasure with the slow progress of the destruction and burial of the birds. "Every day that passes exposes us to outbreaks in additional locations."