“I read the book ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari and understood that animals are more conscious than we thought, which disturbs me and is making me think twice,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni backed him up, even citing Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Eating Animals.”
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This discussion is an encouraging sign that Israel’s decision makers are gaining a better understanding of the need to give consideration to animals and their emotional and physical needs, and to protect them from abuse - even when the animals are on their way to the slaughterhouse.
In recent years, this understanding has been reflected in the Environmental Protection Ministry’s activity on the issue, as well as through legislation submitted to the Knesset and politicians’ mobilization on behalf of animal welfare. One of the most prominent expressions of this effort was ending the cruel practice of force-feeding geese in the framework of the law against cruelty to animals.
At Sunday’s meeting, Netanyahu gave a tailwind to Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz’s proposal that responsibility for enforcing the law against cruelty to animals should be transferred to his ministry. Today, responsibility for enforcing this law rests with the Agriculture Ministry, which, both by dint of its primary mission and due to force of habit, is first and foremost concerned with the economic viability of the animal-husbandry industry and with preventing health risks to human beings. This situation creates a conflict of interests, of which animals are the first victims.
Genuinely ensuring animals’ welfare is likely to impose various restrictions and financial costs on farmers. For instance, those who raise chickens would have to provide them with a minimum amount of living space. This is something the Agriculture Ministry wants to prevent. Experience also shows that the Agriculture Ministry has previously failed to identify and deal with problems such as the abuse of cattle while en route to the slaughterhouse, or the amount of time they spend there.
The Environmental Protection Agency currently runs its own network for helping animals, assists nonprofit organizations active in the field, and also engages in public relations and educational work on the issue. But it lacks any power to enforce the law, including the power to open investigations into cases of abuse. If it is given such power, the fact that it is committed solely to the animals’ welfare should enable it to succeed in creating a balance between their rights, on the one hand, and, on the other, those of the farmers and the needs of public health.