Knesset cries foul on battery eggs

Government decision prohibits starvation of hens, increases cage size.

August 1, 2012 03:36
4 minute read.
Reality show stars protest hen conditions

Reality show stars protest hen conditions 370. (photo credit: Alon Sharaf)

Farmers will no longer be able to starve their hens for prolonged periods in order to increase egg output, the Socioeconomic Cabinet decided on Tuesday.

The process, called forced molting, involves depriving egg-bearing hens of food for between 10 to 14 days, which prompts the chickens to lay more eggs, according to the group Anonymous for Animal Rights.

After struggles led by AAR, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry, the cabinet – chaired by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz – approved a prohibition of this practice, which will go into effect on January 1, an Environment Ministry statement said.

“We end today a terrible and unnecessary cruelty that has been performed on chickens for years only to increase economic benefits,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said, praising Steinitz for leading the cabinet to adopt the policies.

Despite the positive results of eliminating starvation – namely, the improved welfare of the chickens – the Agriculture Ministry did warn that in order to maintain production, farmers will need to nearly double the number of battery cages, and egg prices will likely rise about six agorot.

“The chickens will see the light at the end of the tunnel,” a statement from the Agriculture Ministry said.

In addition to prohibiting hen starvation, the cabinet now requires that all battery cage sizes be a minimum of 750, meeting the European standards for minimum cage size, a measure to be instituted within seven years at the request of the Agriculture Ministry.

Meanwhile, the cabinet also authorized a requirement for adding essential furniture for egg-laying to cages, to be implemented within four years – a compromise between the Environment Ministry’s request that it be carried out within two years, and the Agriculture Ministry’s seven.

Apart from approving these regulations, the cabinet established an inter-ministerial team of finance, agriculture and environment representatives, to investigate the economic significance of repealing forced molting and present its findings to the cabinet within 80 days – according to the Environment Ministry.

Two years of discussions at the Knesset Education Committee have not reached a consensus, although the current cages no longer meet the country’s veterinary, environmental and animal welfare standards, the Agriculture Ministry said.

Today, most Israeli chickens live in coops sized at about 300-450 with no additional accessories, the ministry explained. Stressing that the new regulations will constitute a significant improvement of the chickens’ welfare, the ministry warned that any further delay on the Education Committee’s part in approving the new regulations will result in a status quo that is dangerous for the birds.

Although Israel might be behind in approving legislation for the benefit of chickens, it is completing the process much quicker than other nations, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

While the EU ordered a directive on cage size in 1999, it took around 13 years, until January 2012, to organize and execute the legislation.

Today, there are approximately 14 states that have not implemented the regulation, and 29 percent of European cages do not meet Europe’s mandated size of 750, the ministry said.

In response, AAR praised the cabinet approval as “an important step in the prohibition of all types of cages.”

“We praise Minister Gilad Erdan, who led the opposition to starving chickens and imprisoning them in battery cages, and we thank the minister of finance and cabinet members for their support,” AAR spokesman Ronen Bar said.

“Today, more than 40% of egg production in Europe occurs in coops without cages, and we will continue to work toward the adoption of a regulation that forbids all types of cages in Israel as well.”

About three weeks ago, when the chicken welfare regulations were first supposed to come up for discussion in the Socioeconomic Cabinet, AAR members protested what they called the waste of hundreds of millions of shekels on cages banned in more than 30 countries.

Israel, the organization had said, has invested NIS 350 million worth of public funds in dangerously tiny cages, and legislation had been stunted due to disputes between the two ministries.

During the group’s protest, which occurred on July 9, dozens came to the center of Tel Aviv, displaying battery cages and toy chickens and dogs. They asked passersby: “Would you imprison your dog in a crowded battery cage?” AAR’s hope is that eventually, the battery cages in Israel will be entirely replaced by large coops that exist in many advanced countries – playpens without cages, built on several levels and containing a courtyard, according to the group.

“A person who would imprison a dog in a tiny cage and starve him for weeks would be accused of abuse, and rightly so,” Bar had said. “Imprisonment of chickens in these conditions is a violation of the Animal Welfare Law.”

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