Aviaries or battery cages?

Orna Banai addresses Education Committee debate on fowl conditions.

Orna Banai 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Orna Banai 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
The debate in the Knesset Education Committee on the first day of the parliament’s recess Thursday centered around the type of chicken coops the Agriculture Ministry should mandate under new regulations.
The ministry is embarking on a major reform of the fowl industry and has been embroiled in a dispute with animal rights organizations over the best type of coop.
Actress and comedienne Orna Banai graced the committee with her presence on behalf of animal rights group Anonymous, but her trademark grin and witty repartee were all but absent as she addressed a heartfelt plea to the ministry to protect the chickens from abuse.
“Animal abuse is a great evil. Animals are like children and need protection. I have often said that a society is judged by how it treats its weakest members,” she said.
“Israel has a chance today to make itself look better as a state,” she went on, before pausing to compose herself.
“Chickens are not the same as dogs, but think of a dog in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper. He can’t touch the ground, and he can’t bend over,” she said, describing the 350 cm.-400 cm. square battery cages in which most chickens in Israel are currently raised.
The ministry has proposed regulations that would require all new coops to be 550 sq. cm., which would rise to 750 sq. cm. in 2022 – at which point all cages below 750 sq. cm. would be prohibited.
As part of the current reform, the infrastructure would be built with the goal of 750 in mind, Agriculture Ministry Director-General Yossi Yishai said.
On the other side, Anonymous countered with a proposal that all new chicken coops be built as aviary-type coops, where chickens are free to roost and perch and spread their wings and move around.
According to the group’s calculations, aviaries would be cheaper to construct than battery cages. However, the Agriculture Ministry disputes those numbers.
Both sides made frequent mention of the EU directive on the matter, which mandates 750 sq. cm. by 2012. In Europe, many countries have already moved toward aviaries instead of battery cages. The Agriculture Ministry argued that reforms take a long time, and did even in the EU, where the first directives appeared in 1988.
Anonymous and the other animal rights organizations argued that there was no need for Israel to start at the beginning of the upgrade process; instead, it could leap ahead to far better conditions for chickens and really be a “light unto the nations.”
Veterinarians who addressed the committee from both sides were split on whether each type of coop bettered the health of its inhabitants.
Farmers’ representatives were more concerned with who would foot the bill for the reform than the type of coops to be mandated.
The Education Committee is empowered to approve or reject the regulations, but not to revise or draw up new ones.
Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) refused to bring the regulations for a vote, and another debate is expected, perhaps even during the recess between Knesset sessions.