After a long fight, on a sunny summer's afternoon, 06.20.22 to be precise, a parliamentary committee in Israel approved historic regulations that ban cages for chickens in the egg industry. This is an achievement we're very proud of at Animals Now, and it's worth reflecting on how we got here.
- But first, although cage-free is far from perfect, this is why it's an important step forward: The importance of this ban becomes clear when you see the rows and rows of chickens locked in cages in the egg industry. The vast majority of hens in Israel are crammed into bare metal battery cages, confined to a tiny space for the entirety of their short lives. They can't walk around, let alone spread their wings and fly. They can’t scratch the ground or exhibit other natural behaviors, and this causes a huge amount of stress. It's true that cage-free facilities are also crowded factory farms, and our ultimate goal is to end the use of chickens for food entirely. Yet, the improvement in a hen’s welfare when kept in a cage-free facility compared to a cage is huge. She is able to fly around a little bit, scratch and peck the ground, bathe in the dust to maintain her feathers, and she is not confined to one tiny, barren cell. Certainly all chickens deserve this improvement, until such time as no hen will ever be exploited in any industry again.
- What do the new regulations say? First and foremost, the regulations ban the building or converting of any new caged facility, which guarantees that no new cages can be built for hens in Israel. It also sets a time limit for all existing cages to transition to cage-free facilities. The transition period for battery cages that allow 350 cm2 per hen is shorter: within 3 years (with the possibility of extension of 2 more years in special cases). However, the transition period for cages that allow 600/750 cm2 per hen (750 cm2 is the space permitted in enriched cages in the EU) is too long: 15 years. The regulations are part of an overall egg market reform promoted by the Ministry for Agriculture, including plans to close older facilities for public health reasons and provide grants to producers shifting to cage-free systems. So we estimate that the practical result will be that most caged facilities in Israel will be closed within the next few years, and a majority of chickens will be kept in cage-free facilities.
- Our campaign was long, with many ups and downs along the way. The reform in the egg market was first announced in 2007 in a government decision to invest public funds in reforming egg industry infrastructure, and the Ministry for Agriculture planned to build new battery cages. Animals Now campaigned intensively against this plan and took this struggle to court, which led to an important ruling from the supreme court in November 2009. In an interlocutory injunction, the court ruled in our favor, saying that the reform should be postponed until the approval of proper regulations for the welfare of the chickens. Afterwards, the government tried to approve regulations to keep the cages. It took many more hearings, meetings and discussions, but we kept pushing forward with the ban. Finally, we were able to convince Oded Forer, the Minister of Agriculture, that all cages had to be banned, and we gained the support and collaboration of several key members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament (including Sharren Haskel, the chairperson of the relevant committee for animal welfare issues, and Yasmin Fridman who heads the Caucus for Animal Rights and Welfare). We were finally able to make real progress. The draft regulations were published for public consultation in February 2022. The following period up until the final vote was crucial, and we managed to stop several problematic amendments, including an attempt to permit the use of group cages and "combination cages", which are simply battery cages by another name.
- The drama and suspense continued until the very last moment. In the final hearing in parliament we knew that we couldn't afford another delay. The hearing ran long and we had to juggle between pushing back on problematic suggestions, promoting suggestions for improvements, and keeping an eye on the clock, to do what we could to stop the attempts to stall for time. Little did we know: only a few hours after the crucial vote approved the new regulations, the Prime Minister announced his decision to dissolve parliament…
- Our supporters’ involvement was crucial in securing this win. Over the years, each and every time we needed this issue to remain on the public agenda, our supporters stepped in and kept the pressure on those in power. All of your protests, emails to decision makers, petitions and ongoing support are what made this victory for the hens possible.
- Public opinion really mattered. As a result of our ongoing efforts to expose the public to the horrible truth about the egg industry and cages, a survey held in October 2020 showed that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed (89%) believe that Israel should ban cages. Once the public was convinced, it was possible to convince politicians and public officials of the necessity of a ban.
- Commitments of corporations in the food industry played - and will continue to play - an important role. In recent years, as part of the Open Wing Alliance, we have been working with more and more corporations that have committed to sourcing only cage-free eggs in their products. Food manufacturers, hotel chains, restaurants, retailers, catering companies - they are listening to public demand and are gradually switching to cage-free eggs. We believe that our work with even more corporations, and our efforts to support them in making additional commitments, will be one of the key catalysts to expedite Israel’s transition to 100% cage-free eggs. This will pave the way to shortening the transition period of many of the existing caged systems, and eventually to even more crucial improvements for chickens in the egg industry.
- What’s next? We still have many challenges ahead of us. Making sure the regulations are enforced, shortening the transition period, and further improving the welfare of hens in cage-free facilities. Meanwhile, each and every person who chooses to replace eggs (as well as meat, fish, and dairy) with plant-based options today, is making a hugely meaningful contribution to this fight. Our final goal remains to end the exploitation of all chickens in the egg industry, and all animals in all other industries. We will get there, step by step.