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Israel: Protesting conditions of layer cages

A leading animal rights group in Israel, Anonymous for Animal Rights (AFAR), has launched a campaign opposing battery cages, reports the Jerusalem Post.

According to Uri Lorber, one of the leading activists in AFAR's newly launched campaign, the government has pledged NIS 300 mln 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 website www.eggs.co.il, which 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 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.

The ministry, meanwhile, 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."

Lorber, however, says that 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.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Natalie Berkhout

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