Profound impact of Israel-Gaza war on the poultry industry

A poultry farmer in Galilee, Israel, defied evacuation orders to keep production afloat. Photos: ANP
A poultry farmer in Galilee, Israel, defied evacuation orders to keep production afloat. Photos: ANP

Although nearly 70% of laying hen farms in Israel are physically threatened by the ongoing war, the conflict’s main impact is primarily seen in the legal field. The war is delaying long-awaited industry reforms. On the Palestinian side, a local poultry farmers’ group estimates that around 90% of farms have been destroyed.

Israel boasts some of the world’s highest levels of per capita poultry consumption, estimated at 69 kgs per year. Broiler meat is the main source of protein for Israeli residents. Even low-income households spend, on average, NIS 202 (US$55) on broiler and turkey meat per month which amounts to 10% of food costs. For comparison, the average Israeli family spends 5 times less on eggs than on poultry meat. As a result, the value of the Israeli poultry market stands at NIS 12 billion (US$3.2 billion) per year, according to the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.


The war began on 7 October 2023 with a Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people — drawing an Israeli military assault on Gaza. At the time of writing, the conflict had claimed the lives of at least 35,000 people and has become the worst nightmare for thousands of poultry farmers on both sides on the frontline. Observers state that the Israeli egg industry was affected more than the chicken or turkey segment. In January 2024, the Israel Ministry of Agriculture reported that it expected a supply shortage, as almost 70% of egg farms were located in the region bordering the conflict zone.

Following the Hamas attack and amid repeated shelling of the border areas, authorities ordered the evacuation of large swathes of territory near the Gaza Strip. Daniel Beller, editor of the Poultry Israel Magazine, reports that poultry farmers were among those who refused to leave, risking their lives to keep their businesses running. “In many cases, even when the whole area had been evacuated, poultry farmers remained behind at a great personal risk,” says Beller.

Many Israeli poultry farms are owned by several generations of one family. Abandoning them means not just losing their business. For many farmers, the fear that, in the face of the war, the entire country’s food security may be on the line is also a critical factor in keeping the wheels in motion, despite the risks. “Even when farms were hit by rockets, farmers do their best to restore production,” Beller indicates.

However, some farmers did evacuate both in the north and in the south, where broiler farms are concentrated. Others had to cease production for other reasons, like supply chain disruptions. The Marker, a local news outlet, reported that the poultry industry was hurt as big slaughterhouses pulled the plug on operations in the affected regions. “Everyone did their best to safeguard production,” says Beller.

The near future of the Israeli poultry industry greatly depends on the outcome of the ongoing war, Beller admits. In the worst-case scenario, the sector will lack growth, though he is confident that farmers will still be able to meet domestic demand. “Israel has gained a lot of experience in emergency situation management. If some kind of agreement brings the present situation to an end, it will take a short time to restart operations,” he says.

The conflict stalled changes to alternative housing systems.
The conflict stalled changes to alternative housing systems. 

Cages remain

The war’s key impact on the Israeli poultry industry was not on the battlefield but in the Knesset, the national parliament. Environmentalists have been alarmed by poor welfare standards for years, criticising farmers for using cages in which a hen has only 350 cm2 of living space, which is the size of an A4 sheet of paper. After 12 years of fierce debates, environmentalists achieved a significant milestone in June 2022. Israeli lawmakers passed a landmark bill mandating that all new houses should be cage-free and cages on existing farms be phasing out by 2029.

This legislative change marked a crucial shift in poultry industry practices. Some measures were due to come into force sooner. For example, under the government transition plan, farmers were ordered to provide at least 600 cm2 of living space per hen. But the new regulation was not only about the living space. Among other things, the practice of moulting egg-laying hens to create an additional egg-laying cycle was officially banned. Authorities also banned the trimming of egg-laying hens’ beaks.

In April 2022, however, the Knesset scrapped the transition programme – postponing all parts related to coop overcrowding for 2 years. That decision has left the future of the reform up in the air, especially as part of the egg industry and the Knesset’s education committee advocated for a longer delay. During the debates, Moshe Abutbol, deputy agriculture minister, explained that the new welfare standards could decimate the domestic market given the ongoing war on the northern border.

Egg farmers who took part in the negotiations noted that they come to their farms once a week only to collect the eggs. Under such conditions, nobody can even think about fulfilling modernisation plans. The Ministry of Agriculture, in turn, calculated that the need to deal with overcrowding could trigger a staggering 35% decline in Israeli egg production. In the current context, in which the conflict also hurts Israel’s trade with other countries, it will be challenging to compensate for such a slump, along with a rise in imports.

According to officials, the Israeli poultry industry requires additional protection since the war proved to be only one of a series of major blows it has sustained in recent years. During the fourth quarter of 2023, Israel lost 16 million heads of poultry in a series of Newcastle disease outbreaks, and the industry has yet to recover. The epidemic, coupled with the fallout from the war, has led to double-digit price growth for poultry products in Israel in the first few months of 2024, which troubles both consumers and the authorities.

All these reasons were given to explain the delay in the animal welfare reform – a move that drew heavy criticism from the environmental protection community and some lawmakers who insisted that an exception should be made only for farms located in the territories affected by the shelling.

Poultry production in Gaza was decimated, with only a few sellers being able to bring birds to market.
Poultry production in Gaza was decimated, with only a few sellers being able to bring birds to market.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lambasted the decision: “This is a cynical move by the Ministry of Agriculture based on unsubstantiated economic forecasts that have already been disproved, seriously harming the chickens… Holding layers at such a density is an abuse that cannot be justified and the attempt to prolong it is just one of a series of measures of unprecedented harm to animals under the auspices of war,” the organisation added.

The Ministry of Agriculture responded that Israel cannot afford to lose hens when farmers have no opportunity to invest in their operations. He said that by reducing the number of birds per cage in accordance with the regulations, farmers would inevitably face a drop in the number of eggs produced in the same chicken coop. 

Mounting losses

On the Palestinian side, the repercussions of the conflict have been far more dramatic. While the available data on the state of the Gaza Strip poultry industry is limited, what is known paints a stark and distressing picture. In March, Marwan Al-Helou, the head of the Poultry Breeders and Animal Production Syndicate in Gaza, made a chilling estimate that nearly 90% of the poultry industry in the enclave have been reduced to rubble as a direct result of the hostilities. He estimated that 6,500 farms had operated in the Gaza Strip before the conflict escalated, supplying the local market with three million chickens per month.

Most birds come to the region as humanitarian aid from Egypt. Al-Helou, who was not available to answer follow-up questions for Poultry World, estimated that the quantities supplied are insufficient even to meet 10% of demand in the Gaza Strip. International humanitarian organisations have long warned about the threat of famine looming over the Gaza population, citing the heavy damage sustained by the local food industry and difficulties in delivering aid to the war-torn region. While the end of the conflict is nowhere in sight, it is hard to make any forecasts about the future of the Gaza poultry industry. The region will likely see more destruction and suffering before any plans to reconstruct damaged capacities are even considered.

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Vladislav Vorotnikov Eastern European correspondent