Rights group protests conditions of egg-laying chickens

Government set to spend NIS 300 million on new battery cages.

By MARGARET STONER
July 12, 2009 23:03
3 minute read.
Rights group protests conditions of egg-laying chickens

chickens in cages. (photo credit: Anonymous for Animal Rights)

 
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One of Israel's leading animal rights groups, Anonymous for Animal Rights (AFAR), has launched a campaign opposing battery cages, industrial agricultural confinement cages used primarily for egg-laying chickens. The cages measure roughly 45 cm. by 50 cm. and hold five to 11 hens. According to Uri Lorber, one of the leading activists in AFAR's newly launched campaign, the government has pledged NIS 300 million for the construction of new battery cages. "Three years ago, the Agriculture Ministry decided to reconstruct the entire egg industry, which means most of the existing hen houses were out of use, and they decided to build new ones… with no regulation of animal welfare. So we are protesting against this," he said. The campaign includes a new Web site, www.eggs.co.il, that aims to educate the public about the egg industry. One of the visual resources used, called "virtual battery cage," gives a 3D simulation of the life of an egg-laying hen and allows the user to move throughout the cage. AFAR, which promotes free-range conditions, insists that this depiction is highly accurate. However, the Agriculture Ministry told The Jerusalem Post last week that "Israel cultivates chickens similarly to the remainder of the developed nations and via the same methods. The purpose of the planned reform is to increase the efficiency of production and marketing in the industry, improvement of the biological safety and health of the public, and advancement of the welfare of the animals. The majority of states of the Western world manufacture eggs by means of battery cages and will continue to do so in the future." The ministry added that "the European Union does not forbid the use of battery cages." However, AFAR calls those statistics a lie. The group insists that battery cages will be illegal in the European Union by 2012 and that they are being opposed in many other places around the world, including California. The ministry, meanwhile, told the Post that environmental concerns were being taken into account, and vowed to consider "the quality of the environment and the demands of the veterinary facilities and the Health Ministry with the purpose of reducing outbreaks of diseases, among them bird flu and salmonella." AFAR's new Web site also features movies starring Israeli celebrities. In one movie, the celebrities encourage the public to buy free-range, organic eggs. In another, actors Shai Avivi and Shai Goldstein sit in a cage and joke about its size. "What we almost forget is that a chicken is a bird, and we mustn't put birds in cages," Avivi says. Actress Riki Blich, who is also involved, is an adamant supporter of the campaign. "I joined the site because I found out that the government wanted to build cages that are forbidden in 30 countries. I am sure that eventually, the minister of agriculture will realize the enormity of the wrongdoing, and battery cages will be forbidden in Israel as well. The only time they [the hens] can see the sunlight is when they are being taken to slaughter," she said. But according to Lorber, the government doesn't want to budge on the matter. "We had a long correspondence [with the Agriculture Ministry]. We sat and talked with them, and so far, they are not willing to talk about non-cage systems. They are not even willing to formally talk about how to improve the cage system in minimal ways. We are considering appealing to the courts. This will probably happen shortly." At this time, most eggs in Israel are harvested from caged hens. The ministry will begin building new cages this month, and plan to finish the project in 2013. According to AFAR, the first place new cages will be built is Moshav Even Menahem, where Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon lives.

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