MKs to conditionally support foie gras trade bill

Shamir, Aharonvitch announce that they are willing to remove their appeal of the bill, if it only prohibits trade of product.

June 16, 2013 16:27
4 minute read.
Animal rights activists protest against blockage of ban on foie gras.

Animal rights activists protest in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Anonymous for Animal Rights)

Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir (Likud Beytenu) and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Likud Beytenu) announced on Sunday that they would remove their appeal against a bill prohibiting the trade of foie gras, on the condition that the bill only prohibit the trade – and not the personal import – of the disputed product.

By prohibiting the trade instead of the import, Israel can avoid violating international trade agreements, a move that would bring economic harm to the country, the ministers said.

The original bill, initiated by MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) in conjunction with two animal rights groups, received approval in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation last Sunday and called for the ban on both the import and trade of foie gras – a delicacy acquired by force-feeding ducks and geese. The government banned the practice in Israel about a decade ago after the High Court of Justice deemed it abusive, but the import and sale of the product remain legal.

On Tuesday night, just before the bill was set to undergo its first Knesset reading on Wednesday morning, Aharonovitch filed an appeal against the bill on behalf of Shamir, according to Lipman’s spokesman.

Although Shamir supported the principles behind the bill, he expressed fears that executing such legislation would violate international trade agreements and could prompt foie gras-producing countries such as Hungary and France to retaliate with sanctions against Israel, Shamir’s spokesman said at the time. Such retaliatory prohibitions could include bans on Israeli agricultural imports into the EU, with a potential focus on kosher products, as kosher slaughter has lately caught negative attention among certain European animal rights activists, the spokesman said.

Changing the phrasing of the bill from prohibiting imports to prohibiting trade of the product also received the approval of Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday, provided that the trade prohibition is enforced by the Agriculture Ministry, Shamir’s spokesman said.

“The bill is designed with the proper and humane purpose of preventing cruelty to animals,” Shamir and Aharonovitch said in a joint statement.

“The proposed change will promote the continuation of the legislation while preventing economic damage to Israeli exports and imposed sanctions following the violation of international trade agreements. The proposed change will keep up with legislation in the state of California in the US in which only the trade is prohibited.”

In response to Shamir and Aharonovitch’s proposal, Lipman’s spokesman said that the MK’s office cannot comment on the offer until they receive more concrete details that are not based on hearsay. It is still unclear at this point, for example, whether a prohibition on trade would prevent individuals from selling foie gras that they personally import or if the product would be restricted to personal use, the spokesman said.

He added that Lipman and his supporters will therefore continue to pursue their current plan of pressuring the appeal’s removal unconditionally, until more definitive terms of Shamir and Aharonovitch’s agreement becomes available.

Such specifications will be clarified during the legislation process, Shamir’s spokesman said in response.

Representatives from the European religious sector expressed concerns that Shamir’s potential appeal retraction could bring negative consequences to the struggle to maintain kosher slaughter in the continent.

Rabbi Jermiyahu Menachem Kohen – the head of the Paris rabbinical court, which is the largest of its kind in Europe – sent a letter to Shamir on Sunday stressing that a ban on foie gras imports could bring European environmentalists to retaliate. Due to an increasing European concern that kosher slaughter might not live up to animal rights standards, passing such a ban due to animal rights concerns could provide “a double-edged sword to our enemies,” Kohen wrote.

Some food and catering companies are already boycotting kosher slaughterhouses in Europe, and an Israeli ban on foie gras import would only give a boost to this public campaign, he added.

After visiting some of the foie gras production facilities in Hungary, Kohen said the procedure is conducted in a much less injurious manner than in previous years and stressed that European veterinarians have also confirmed the animals’ welfare.

Anonymous for Animal Rights, the organization that worked with Lipman on the bill in collaboration with the group Let Animals Live, criticized the Agriculture Ministry for failing to fully retract the appeal and for not submitting a compromise proposal. The animal rights activists organized a protest against the bill’s blockage on Friday in Tel Aviv and also enlisted more than 1,300 people to send letters to the ministers involved.

The organization slammed Shamir directly for “preventing the advancement” of the bill and for “misleading the public by stating that he supports the legislation while in practice trying to hinder it.”

“The message of the agriculture minister reflects the public pressure exerted upon him and Minister Aharonovitch,” a statement from Anonymous said. “We propose that the minister act with integrity and stop the abuse of geese.”

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