Cages for laying hens banned from new coops, to be phased out in existing ones

Knesset panel approves new animal welfare regulations that also ban starving hens to up egg production. Advocacy group lauds ‘victory for animals and public,’ after 13-year battle

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Laying hens in a cage. (Animals Now)
Laying hens in a cage. (Animals Now)

Animal welfare activists celebrated victory on Monday after a Knesset committee approved new regulations that spell the end of cages for laying hens.

The move will bring Israel into line with 18 other countries that have banned such caging.

Animals Now, the not-for-profit organization that has led the campaign to ban cages since 2009, said the decision was “a huge victory for animals and the Israeli public.” It noted that research had found less salmonella in cageless sheds.

Another NGO, Let the Animals Live, said that while hens would not have quality of life until the end of industrial farming, it was right to celebrate the ban of some of the cruelest and most outdated practices.

The new regulations also forbid the practice of starving hens for 10 days to increase their egg production.

Referring to a former draft of the regulations which enraged animal welfare activists by allowing for “sections” rather than cages, Agriculture Minister Oded Forer said that doing away with the cages had been a priority for him since becoming a minister, and that the new regulations were “without sections and without other roundabout ways to cage hens in a restricted space.”

Filthy conditions at a northern Israeli egg farm, where chickens live in cages above piles of their own excrement. (Screenshot)

Some 10 million hens lay eggs in Israel and around 90 percent of them currently live in cramped cages of a design banned by 39 other countries, according to Animals Now. Each hen occupies less room than an A4 piece of paper, it said.

According to Poultry Industry Council figures, just 3.2% of hens in Israel are cage-free, compared with more than half in the European Union.

Agriculture Ministry figures indicate that 93% of chicken coops meet neither the sanitation nor animal welfare requirements of the veterinary services.

The new regulations ban cages in any new chicken shed, with immediate effect, and provide for phased removal of existing cages through 2038 — a period decried as unnecessarily long by rights activists. Until then, the cages are to be made less crowded.

Despite the long lead-in, though, many cages are expected to go to the trash long before the deadline, within the framework of an agricultural reform through which farmers will be eligible for financial support to build new sheds.

The cageless coops that will be introduced in Israel. (Courtesy of Animals Now)

Chicken coops without cages are still packed intensively with birds, but enable the hens to move around and to practice some of their natural habits, such as pecking in the ground, taking dust baths to remove parasites, flapping their wings, and laying in a dark, private space, from which the eggs are removed automatically.

As Animals Now pointed out, though, they never see a cockerel or any chicks. Male chicks are disposed of immediately after hatching because they have no economic value.

Laying hens have part of their beaks removed and are sent for slaughter when their laying declines along with their monetary value.

Animals Now vowed to continue to campaign to ensure that eggs imported from overseas would also be from hens not reared in cages.

A year ago, the European Commission announced that it was aiming to present a bill next year to ban all forms of livestock caging, from calf pens and farrowing crates for pregnant and lactating sows to cages for ducks and rabbits.

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