[from Jerusalem Post]
The Knesset Education Committee on Monday refused to extend a grace period for force-feeding geese in the production of foie gras despite a request from the Agriculture Ministry to let the current regulations remain in effect until the end of March.
The Knesset Education Committee, which is responsible for animal-rights laws, also called on the government and the Agriculture Ministry to compensate foie gras producers by the end of March for any loss incurred.
Foie gras producers have until the end of January to continue production, after which regulations for force-feeding geese to increase the size of their livers, sold as the delicacy foie gras, expire.
"The time has come to put and end to the drawn-out period of many years during which the geese have suffered," declared Knesset Education Committee chairwoman Meli Polishook-Bloch (Shinui).
Agriculture Ministry Director-General Yossy Ishay protested the committee's decision.
"This is the first time the Knesset has decided that an entire sector of agriculture is illegal," Ishay said. "If we don't stop the animal-rights groups, tomorrow you won't be able to milk cows or keep chickens in coops."
Ishay explained that the ministry has begun tests on a safer technology that employs shorter, silicon feeding tubes instead of the longer metal tubes in use today, as well as a shorter feeding period.
"The technology complies with animal-cruelty regulations," he said. "We are 10 years ahead of Europe in this."
In 2003 the High Court ruled that current regulations for force-feeding geese are cruel to animals but recommended allowing the practice to continue until March 2005, by which time the Agriculture Ministry was to present new regulations or rehabilitate foie gras manufacturers. During the intervening period the Knesset Education Committee granted periodic extensions of the feeding regulations, although Monday's decision will end the current practice at the end of January.
Ishay said the ministry will check the legal status of foie gras manufacturers once the current regulations expire.
There are 70 foie gras producers in Israel, employing 500 workers in an industry worth an annual NIS 70 million, 50 percent of which is for export.
Ishay warned that if local production stops until the new technology is approved, other countries from Europe and the Middle East will quickly step in to fill Israel's place.
The Knesset Education Committee is responsible for the animal-rights law because of the implications of animal testing on university research. It is empowered to approve or disapprove regulations dealing with animal rights and cruelty to animals.