Israeli egg producers are rife with health and safety concerns, sparking fears of sanitation problems and the possible spread of zoonotic diseases, according to the State Comptroller’s Report.
The situation was especially bad in the North, where chicken coops were found to host severe diseases at a much higher rate than the rest of the country, the report said Tuesday.
There was a large outbreak of bird flu in Israel late last year. It was likely brought to the country by migratory birds and spread throughout chicken coops in the North. The Agriculture Ministry was forced to cull about one million birds in poultry farms throughout the country.
It was necessary because bird flu is a zoonotic disease, meaning it could have made the jump from animals to humans; in fact, this has occurred in several countries worldwide already.
A cagey issue
The plight of Israel’s chicken coops is influenced by several factors, but a very large one is the prevalence of cage coops.
On average, Israeli chicken coops produce 2.2 billion eggs each year. However, 94% of all hens laying the eggs are housed in cage coops, the State Comptroller’s Report said.
The percentage of hens housed in cage coops that lay eggs for consumers in the US is 70%, and in the European Union it is 48%.
In the EU, the hens are kept in larger coops, where each hen has about 750 square centimeters each to lay eggs. In Israel, 76% of the hens are kept in older coops that provide 400 sq.cm. of space for each hen.
But there are other problems facing egg production in the country.
A crisis in license
Last August, about 91% of all chicken coops in Israel were unlicensed, the report said.
In addition, recommendations made seven years ago that would update regulations for chicken coops to be licensed in compliance with the most recent veterinary requirements have yet to be implemented.
Government decisions in 2007, 2010 and 2021 on updating the rules and regulations for egg production have also not been implemented due mainly to disagreements with the operators of the coops.
That means there is concern that the vast majority of chicken coops are not meeting basic sanitary and safety requirements, posing a major risk to public health.
In light of the recent mass recall experienced by the Strauss Group food company caused by salmonella contamination, which is a zoonotic disease, there is grave concern for public health.
The price of eggs
Another serious issue regarding egg production in Israel is price.
As a basic staple, the price of eggs is controlled by the government. The reason is to make sure the prices are not raised by sellers or producers and to keep them affordable for the public, the report said.
Despite this, the average price of eggs is still very high – 41% higher than in OECD countries and 72% higher than in the US. This is exacerbated by extra costs resulting from the need to cull hens infected by diseases such as bird flu.
Can anything be done?
Possible solutions do exist, but they will require government intervention.
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman recommended that egg producers be put in line with OECD recommendations and the decisions and recommendations of government ministries.
This would include formulating and implementing a multiyear plan for non-caged hens, adequately disposing garbage and waste from coops and maintaining sanitation and safety standards.
This would help prevent the outbreak of zoonotic diseases and lower the price of eggs to keep them closer to what they are in the US and Europe.