Is Egg Shortage Really the Problem?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Chicken coop in Zar'it, northern Israel
Chicken coop in Zar'it, northern IsraelCredit: Rami Shllush
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Hundreds of thousands of sick animals, whom we coldly refer to as “egg-layers,” are being executed in barbaric ways right now, while we’re busy worrying about a shortage of eggs. Thousands of migratory birds die after an arduous journey from the distant north, and our main concern is the blow to tourism. The selfish general attitude toward wildlife here is perfectly exemplified by the way the bird flu currently sweeping the Upper Galilee is being treated.

The distress of the chicken farmers is real, and the egg shortage hurts too. The closure of the Hula Nature Reserve is a shame. But when a society completely diverts its gaze from the suffering caused to those living alongside it, the real plague isn’t bird flu, it’s indifference.

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When man is also at least partially to blame for this suffering, it’s impossible to ignore the strangled cries of fear and pain coming from the chicken coops in Moshav Margaliot. They should be cries of accusation, even if they are coming from the throats of stupid hens, moments before they are destroyed. Contrary to reports, it is not the coops that are being destroyed there, but the chickens. Hundreds of thousands. A Holocaust-size number.

The attitude toward the meat industry is based on lies, concealment, repression and denial, without which this industry would be much smaller than it is. The slaughterhouses cannot be filmed, and filming what goes on inside the chicken coops, cattle barns and sheep pens is considered a subversive act by radical activists, one that spurs calls to the police. But why?

Why shouldn’t we see what is happening every day in hundreds of places in Israel? Why shouldn’t we know not only about all the ingredients in Bamba, which are required to be listed on the packaging, but also about how the chicken makes its way to our plate?

The people who hide this information know exactly why. If more people were exposed to what the animal is subjected to from the day of its birth until it reaches the butcher counter, what it endures from the barn until the chocolate pudding, as it makes its way from the sheep pen to lamb chops, from the chicken coop to the drumstick, from the breeding ponds to gefilte fish – many people would swear off all animal products for life. If more Israelis were exposed to the truth – and the same goes for the occupation, too – it would alter their consciousness. And as with the occupation, there are those who strive to protect us from the truth; to shield us so that we won’t see or know or think.

But it would be better for the public to see the abuse, to witness the daily Treblinka – and then each person could decide if he or she wants to go on participating in this. Better for everyone to know the truth about the newborn calf’s suffering, about how he is permanently separated from his anguished mother, about the desperate moans of a cow who is milked down to the last drop, about the chicks that are destroyed as soon as they hatch – and then we can decide if we really want this.

It needn’t be solely the concern of “weirdos” and “eccentrics,” nor does it need to become a religion or cult. It is also possible to support animal rights and to consume less animal products. It is possible to only consume animals whose suffering has been almost totally eliminated, it is possible to decide on a boycott, and it is also possible just to buy less. Even a place as wholesome and nature-loving as the Hula Nature Reserve succumbed in part to greed and abuse of the birds there, as Moshe Gilad recently reported.

At least the cranes will return. They are still free creatures, although their suffering – and mass death after their long migration – is still deeply disturbing. But now hundreds of thousands of chickens are being purposely drowned and decapitated and tossed in the garbage. It doesn’t have to be this way. If the coops were not so packed and cruel, the epidemic would not have spread so extensively.

These are truths that are evident to every vegan, vegetarian or animal-lover. But these truths need to become evident to everyone. One can be a carnivore, but it is immoral to do so without also being aware of what was done to that animal on its way to becoming the Beef Stroganoff that melts in your mouth. Watch “My Octopus Teacher” and then let’s see how you feel about tossing some shrimp on the grill.  

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