Animal-rights activists protested in Tel Aviv this week to demand that the government adopt regulations that would halt the poultry industry’s practice of killing male chicks on farms that breed chickens, and ban the use of crowded battery cages to raise chickens. According to protesters, Israeli poultry growers destroy over 4.5 million male chicks a year, while Israel is one of the last countries in the West to allow farmers to raise chickens in overcrowded cages, where birds are lined up one next to another with barely enough space to move.
Animal-rights groups have for years been pushing the government to adopt new standards that would match laws that came into effect in the European Union this year — providing “furnished cages” for chickens and other fowl, with soft areas for birds to rest, providing them with twice as much space as they currently have. Legislation to improve the living conditions of chickens raised for slaughter, or to lay eggs, has floated around the Knesset for years, and laws against cruelty to animals have been on the books for years, but enforcement has been spotty, at best.
The new EU regulations, which cover all fowl raised for food, require farmers to provide at least 750 square centimeters of space per bird (double what most chickens get in Israeli henhouses), and provide enough space for birds to move around freely and with access to fresh air and natural light, enabling them to flap their wings, etc. Cages will be equipped with natural or artificial grass or sand, imitating the birds’ natural environment, and each cage will even be equipped with soft material – a mattress or pillow – for birds to rest on. Several years ago, the Knesset mandated henhouse reform as well, but the Israeli requirements are not as stringent as that of the EU.
Ironically, it’s an Israeli company called Agrotop that has been a pioneer in the design and production of henhouses that meet the EU’s requirements. Together with its German partner, Big Dutchman, Agrotop markets aesthetically designed and environmentally friendly henhouses that enable farmers to comply with the requirements, and still make money.
Some parts of a law to reform the poultry industry are set to come on-line in Israel this year. Farmers will be required to provide birds with at last 550 square centimeters of space, a vast improvement over the current 300 or so most chickens have to live with, but not up to the EU standards, which animal-rights groups have been pushing the Knesset to approve.
Agrotop said that its coops meet and even beat these standards. A facility built by the company in the Elah Valley, south of Beit Shemesh — the first facility in Israel fully designed and built by Agrotop — includes many features that will make life better for chickens and other fowl, while enabling farmers to still turn a profit.
The Elah Valley facility, the company said, provides chickens with 550 square centimeters per bird, with the ability to quickly change the configuration to increase space to 750 square centimeters, if the legislation requiring it finally passes. Not only does that Elah Valley facility provide birds with more space – it’s also environmentally friendly, according to an Agrotop spokesperson.
The facility, like others built abroad by Agrotop, is raised off the ground, so that waste and other byproducts (like chicken manure, which is full of nitrogen) of industrial chicken farming do not leach into the ground or water table. The facility is also built of recycled materials, wherever possible. The roof of the building has wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, for the production of electricity. It also includes a mechanism to recycle the birds’ manure, turning it into a methane-based gas, which is also used to provide electricity to the coop – allowing farmers to save big on their electricity bills.
Agrotop’s henhouses and coops have been called the “henhouse of the future” by Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, which in 2009 awarded Agrotop with just such an accolade. Agrotop, which has been in existence for decades, is Israel’s largest manufacturer and builder of turnkey poultry production systems, and sells in 35 countries abroad, and last year began producing the expanded, environmentally friendly henhouses – which are now being used throughout Europe. With pressure growing not only from environmental activists, but from consumers as well, for more humane treatment of fowl, it’s just a matter of time before Israel fully adopts the EU standards, the company said, and Agrotop will be ready when Israeli farmers, via the Israeli government, are ready to implement those changes.