Socioeconomic cabinet approves proposal for forced molting ban

Rights activists: Proposal allows too much transition time away from dangerous practice.

Chickens (photo credit: courtesy of Anonymous for Animal Rights)
(photo credit: courtesy of Anonymous for Animal Rights)
After the socioeconomic cabinet approved on Wednesday night a proposal to prohibit the forced molting in battery hen cages, animal rights activists slammed the plan for failing to enact the ban immediately across the board.
Forced molting is a process by which farmers refrain from feeding all their hens for one to two weeks, prompting simultaneous molting (shedding feathers) – after which the egg productivity quality of the hens tends to increase.
The proposal, which was submitted by Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, will immediately ban forced molting in every new coop to be built, and will prohibit the process in all existing cages within three years, the Agriculture Ministry explained.
While the three-year period is one year less than was originally advocated by the Agriculture Ministry, it is still unnecessarily long, according to both the Environmental Protection Ministry and animal rights activists.
Now that the proposal has received socioeconomic cabinet endorsement, the Agriculture Ministry must submit the plans to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee for approval within 45 days, the ministry explained. If approved there, the forced molting ban will become law alongside regulations regarding the confinement and raising of hens.
“This is an important procedure that will dramatically improve the welfare of battery hens, but insist upon adequate livelihood conditions for the growers, while taking public health into account and weighing in consumer considerations and the cost of living,” Shamir said.
The socioeconomic cabinet’s decision on Wednesday night determined that within 45 days, the Interministerial Pricing Committee must examine price control on eggs. As a result of the transition to banning forced molting, there will be a lower amount and a smaller size of eggs as well as higher production costs, which experts have predicted will raise the price about 3 agorot per egg, the Agriculture Ministry said.
The legislative process to improve conditions for hens began several years ago, after the Agriculture Ministry generated draft regulations regarding the confinement of hens, which received approval from the Education, Culture and Sports Committee in the Knesset, the ministry said. During the discussions that ensued, various changes occurred, including increasing the minimum area of all cages to 750 and requiring the installation of additional equipment for egg-bearing hens, as per the European directive on the subject, the ministry continued.
Although the various parties involved reached agreements on all of these subjects, the controversial issue of forced molting remained, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
Therefore, an interministerial committee was tasked with formulating and submitting to the government recommendations on the issue, which occurred about a year ago.
While the Agriculture and Finance ministries supported the recommendations, the Environmental Protection Ministry opposed them due to the fact that the existing farms would not have to cease forced molting immediately, the Agriculture Ministry explained. An immediate cessation of forced molting in the already existing battery cages should not occur because the resultant shortage of eggs would negatively affect the public and the industry, the ministry argued.
The Agriculture Ministry slammed the Environmental Protection Ministry, stressing that if it was not for the “irresponsible behavior and unnecessary stubbornness” of the latter, the industry could have already implemented the regulations and prevent harm to the welfare of the battery hens.
“Paradoxically, the same office claiming to promote the welfare of animals is the one that for years was the inhibitor without apparent logical reasoning toward enacting and implementing these regulations,” a statement from the Agriculture Ministry said.
The Environment Ministry, on the other hand, prided itself upon the fact that existing henneries would need to cease practicing forced molting within three years, rather than the original four suggested, assuming the legislation receives Knesset approval. Allocating four years for the transition would mean that about 7 million chickens would need to suffer from the molting process, the Environment Ministry explained.
Meanwhile, although the government declared in January 2013 that Israel must stop starving chickens, it took almost a year for the recommendation submission to occur, the ministry argued.
“The Agreement on the issue of starving hens is an important achievement, but we are concerned that despite this agreement on a prohibition, this could be transformed into a dead letter in the law books,” said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. “Therefore, we must expedite the transfer of responsibility for the animal rights unit from the Agriculture Ministry to the Environmental Protection Ministry.”
The idea of which ministry should be governing animal welfare has been a hot-button issue lately, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently established a team to solve this very question.
Activist groups Anonymous for Animal Rights and Let Animals Live argued that even the three-year transition period allowed for forced molting is “another demonstration of the urgent need to transfer enforcement to the Environmental Protection Ministry.”
Meanwhile, the groups criticized the fact that if the legislation passes battery cages will still be in use in Israel, even if their sizes are increased to 750 – which constitute “only minor modifications” in their eyes.