MK launches new Knesset animal welfare caucus, vows to end live shipments of calves

It’s time for others to ‘stop calling us crazy,’ says Yesh Atid’s Yasmin Sacks-Friedman, also highlighting plight of street cats, and caged hens and pigs

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Calves on a live shipment from Australia to Eilat for fattening, prior to slaughter, December 2019. (Israel Against Live Shipments)
Calves on a live shipment from Australia to Eilat for fattening, prior to slaughter, December 2019. (Israel Against Live Shipments)

Yesh Atid lawmaker Yasmin Sacks-Friedman launched a Knesset caucus for animal welfare on Monday that hopes to tackle a wide range of animal issues, from spaying street cats to ending the live shipment of calves and lambs to Israel for slaughter.

At a Knesset launch event attended by representatives of animal rights organizations — along with fellow Yesh Atid MKs Yorai Lahav-Hertzano and Alon Tal, and Mossi Raz of Meretz — Sacks-Friedman also identified plans to help caged hens, pigs shut into farrowing crates and the neglected inhabitants of petting zoos.

Sacks-Friedman, a social, environmental and animal rights activist from the southern city of Beersheba, said it was time for animal lovers to stop apologizing for their activities and for others to “stop calling us crazy.”

The lawmaker hit the headlines last month by securing an additional NIS 12 million ($3.9 million) over two years to treat, castrate and spay street cats, with an estimated million cats living on the country’s streets.

The move was widely panned by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who compared the allocation of money for cats to the reduction in budgets to Haredi daycare funding.

Despite the allocation on the NIS 12 million, which is in addition to a basic annual NIS 4.5 million ($1.5 million) for the purpose already budgeted, and that will also need to be matched by local authorities, activists said it was still not enough to effectively deal with the issue.

A man feeds leftovers from his store to stray cats in central Jerusalem, October 13, 2010. (Keren Freeman/FLASH90)

Yael Arkin, director of the animal rights organization Let Animals Live (Tnu Lehayot Lehiot) estimated that the sum would only fund the castration and spaying of 95,000 felines.

She pointed to problems finding enough veterinarians and veterinary assistants to carry out the work — the profession is undermanned in general, and there is no financial incentive to treating street cats — adding that there was no training for those tasked with catching the cats on the streets.

Lawmakers and animal rights organizations meet for the first session of a new Knesset caucus for animal welfare, at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 22, 2021. (Ido Meridor)

The conference heard that research is being carried out in Israel and overseas to use drugs rather than surgery for feline birth control.

Meanwhile, Sacks-Friedman said she and her staff had been working since she entered the Knesset on what would be her “flagship” bill to stop the import of live calves and lambs for fattening and slaughter.

However, this was facing substantial obstacles, she said.

Yesh Atid lawmaker Yasmin Sacks-Friedman at the launch of the Knesset caucus for animal welfare, at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 22, 2021. (Ido Meridor)

In November 2018, a month before the Knesset dissolved, kickstarting four inconclusive elections, the Knesset green-lighted a bill in its preliminary reading to gradually reduce livestock numbers being imported into Israel and to stop them completely within three years, moving entirely to the import of chilled meat.

The bill, proposed by Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, was passed without opposition. But the political deadlock that only ended with the formation of the current government in June, prevented it from making further headway.

It is understood that the main challenges this time are coming from the Health Ministry, which is supposed to be extending the shelf life of imported chilled meat from 80 to 120 days, and from the Finance Ministry, which is worried that replacing live imports with chilled meat ones, will raise meat prices.

Animal rights organizations say that chilled meat is much cheaper, arguing that the import and slaughter of live animals, and therefore the pricing too, is controlled by just two companies in Israel, Dabah and Tnuva, while importing chilled meat from overseas would allow for greater competition.

This year, the country is on target to import some 744,000 animals, according to Yaron Lapidot, founder of the organization Israel Against Live Shipments. This is up from 601,741 animals last year and 691,327 in 2019.

Numerous reports have exposed animal cruelty aboard the ships, which resemble massive multistory parking lots carrying from 1,000 to 20,000 cattle, or 100,000 sheep, or a combination.

MKs Tal and Lahav-Herzano drew attention to the environmental damage caused by the meat, and particularly beef, industry worldwide, noting that by generating methane and nitrous oxide, the industry contributes anywhere from 14% to 25% of all global warming gases, while ammonia from urine feeds acid rain.

Cattle ranching accounts for 70 to 80% of Amazon rainforest destruction and around 1,000 gallons of water are used to generate just one steak.

Tal said there was no reason why a carbon tax, due to be introduced in Israel for fossil fuels, should not be extended to meat as well. “Today there are alternatives (to meat) and we need to use the new economic tools to reduce meat consumption,” he said.

The new caucus also plans to tackle the conditions of pigs farmed in Israel.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, around 120,000 pigs are raised in Israel.

Illustrative: This July 10, 2009 photo shows a sow nursing her piglets in a farrowing crate in an Elite Pork Partnership hog confinement building in Carroll, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Dr. Liat Morgan, an expert in pig welfare, told the event how she is testing ways to give pigs more space and allow them to indulge in natural behaviors in an attempt to reduce their stress and stop them fighting out of boredom — a behavior that has pushed farmers to remove pigs’ teeth.

Additional space would also allow for a stop to farrowing crates, in which sows kept in tiny spaces are literally locked in position to stop them rolling on their piglets, she said.

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