We have all been frustrated by the high prices for tomatoes and other vegetables this season. Tomatoes have been especially hard hit because of a virus in the Negev which is destroying entire tomato greenhouses. The virus is called tomato mosaic virus (also known as tobacco mosaic virus), and infected fruits look like this:
Unfortunately, there is no cure for this extremely hardy disease. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service,
Unlike fungicidal chemicals used to control fungal diseases, to date there are no efficient chemical treatments that protect plant parts from virus infection. Additionally, there are no known chemical treatments used under field conditions that eliminate viral infections from plant tissues once they do occur. Practically speaking, plants infected by viruses remain so. Tobacco mosaic virus is the most persistent plant virus known. It has been known to survive up to 50 years in dried plant parts. Therefore, sanitation is the single most important practice in controlling tobacco mosaic virus.
At this point, I am feeling quite sorry for the tomato farmers in the Negev. One person, however, is not:
The shortages on the shelves are a disgraceful occurrence,” said MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), the chairman of the committee. Even before the committee convened Cabel put out a statement saying that he viewed the situation very gravely and that he intended investigating the truth of the situation and pointing a finger at those responsible for it. Cabel recalled that the committee had already discussed the matter two months ago and warned about shortages and price rises during the Holidays period but despite his warning not enough had been done to prevent this serious situation. (Globes)
He said this last week, when people already knew about tomato mosaic virus running rampant in the Negev greenhouses. I am not sure how you can call a virus “a disgraceful occurrence”, but I guess there must be one conspiracy theorist in every Knesset.
Since this disease will not be clearing up any time soon (estimates are that supplies will be back to normal around December), last month the Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (Bayit HaYehudi) approved the tax-free import of tomatoes and cucumbers. He did that to ensure a constant supply of vegetables throughout the holidays, but this move was most certainly not the most helpful for consumers. Why? First of all, as we have seen time and time again, the supermarket chains don’t lower their prices when they purchase tax-free food- they keep the prices high and swallow the profits themselves. Secondly, I personally would like to know if I am buying produce from Israel, Jordan, or some other country. In other countries it is a law that there must be a sign that states the origin of all produce sold in supermarkets. This is called COOL- Country of Origin Labeling.
Israel, on the other hand, does not have that requirement in their legislation. Therefore, the consumer can’t tell if the product is an imported, tax-free product which should be priced lower, or an Israeli product. This again helps the supermarkets hide information that consumers would use to evaluate the price of an item.
If this bothers you as much as it does me, write to The Israel Consumer Council- HaMoetza HaYisraelit L’Tzarchanut. Unfortunately, the complaint form is only in Hebrew. While you are there, tell them that you support their proposed legislation to limit the markup of fruits and vegetables by supermarket chains:
הצעת חוק פיקוח על רווחי שיווק בתוצרת חקלאית
Read more about the proposed legislation on their web site. You might also want to write to other Knesset members expressing your support for the law.
Another place to make yourself heard is by supporting COOL legislation in Israel. In my next post, Setting the (food) standard in Israel, I will tell you how.
In 2010, Kolbotek, the show that loves to expose secrets in the food industry, had a two-part show about the amount of water that is added and/or injected into frozen fish in Israel. You can watch the videos here:
Quite a furor arose after this show- the Knesset called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, supermarkets ran to remove the products from their freezers, and there were public campaigns to stop buying fish from China. One of the companies, DeliDag, which is owned by Neto (think Tibon Veal, Atara, Wiliger, and more) sued Kolbotek for “lashon hara”-libel. The judgement came down last week and DeliDag lost.
One of the judges had this to say about the suit:
Not every threat that publishes a study shows damage to the consumer. The medicine for this is running to court and filing a libel suit. Sometimes it is better to bow your head, examine the results of the study, to recognize the fault if there is one, and work to correct it.
So as sensationalist as Kolbotek tends to be, this time you can accept them as truth. When you buy frozen fish, know that when it says “meubad”- “מעובד”- that means that the fish is processed and not fresh. Look at the ingredients on the back and you will find food additives such as phosphates listed. Food additives all have their E number listed with either the name or the type of food additive it is. If you see that the fish has “tzipui kerach”-“ציפוי קרח”- that fished is glazed. The law states that there can be up to 20% glazing on a fish.
Misrad HaBriut is responsible for the import of frozen and fresh fish to Israel. If you find a product on the shelf that is not labeled appropriately or appears to have too much water in it, save the fish and the package and call *5400 or email Misrad HaBriut on their web site (English) to find out where to file a complaint.
The holiday season is usually characterized by an increase in the number of attempts to smuggle meat originating from the Palestinian Authority, an increase in the rate of illegal slaughter, and an increase in attempts to illegally produce eggs and forge their markings. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development attributes the increase in these illegal activities to the high potential for profit these products offer as the demand for them increases. The inspectors of the Central Investigation and Enforcement Unit (Pitzuach) at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development invest a huge amount of time and effort during this period in an attempt to stop smuggling attempts, illegal slaughter, and the forging of animal products, in light of the real threat to public health posed by the possibility that these products, which were produced and slaughtered without veterinary supervision, will be consumed by the public. The inspectors operate based on intelligence information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the areas located between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, in warehouses and in points of sale. 488,790 eggs, 182,233 tons of chicken meat and beef and 676 tons of cheese were seized and destroyed following an order issued by a veterinary doctor this past week alone.
During the weekend, a house in which beef was illegally slaughtered without veterinary supervision was found in Lod. The quantity of beef found in the apartment was especially large – 1 ton. The meat was destroyed following an order issued by a veterinary doctor, and criminal charges were presses against the suspects involved.
In addition, the inspectors of the Ministry of Agriculture seized during the weekend a truck attempting to smuggle 4 tons of meat, originating from the Judea and Samaria area in the Palestinian Authority, and intended to be sold in Israel. The truck was caught at the Hotze Shomron checkpoint. The driver, a resident of the central region of Israel in his late 30s, was detained, and criminal charges were pressed against him.
An illegal egg production facility was also found during the weekend. The inspectors of the Central Investigation and Enforcement Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, together with officers of the Israeli Border Police and IDF soldiers, raided an egg sorting facility located in the Hevron area, in which eggs were marked in order to make them seem “kosher for sale”. Eggs in the facility were marked with forged stamps of a well-known and certified sorting facility in Israel, and with “kosher for Passover” marks, to make them seem authentic. Forging measures for marking the eggs and 27,000 eggs were seized on location and in a nearby warehouse.
Source: Misrad HaChaklaut web site
For tips on how and where to purchase meat and eggs, check out Aliyah tip #9: buying meat, fish and eggs.
Food Safety Week continues with surprise visits to supermarkets Rami Levy in Jerusalem, Mega BaIr and Shufersal in Tel Aviv. What they found was not so appealing. Check out the video on Mako- Arutz 2 or on Misrad HaBriut’s Facebook page.
If you can’t understand the Hebrew, here is a quick summary of what they found:
During the inspections, samples were taken of the ground meat for microbiological analysis. The ground chicken from Shufersal and Rami Levy had Salmonella growing and the ground beef from Mega Ba’Ir had a high general bacterial count as well as coliform bacteria– a sign of fecal contamination.
Rami Levy’s response: The deficiencies were apparently due to the pressure of the holidays. The deficiencies noted in the inspection report were corrected immediately.
Mega BaIr’s response: The report speaks of a specific problem in only one store. A follow-up inspection by Misrad HaBriut showed that most of the deficiencies were corrected. Regarding the bacterial testing, that is to be expected in a raw product that must be cooked before eating- it does not affect the quality or safety of the product.
Shufersal’s response: We feel that preserving the quality of our products is of the utmost importance. We therefore strictly supervise each store to ensure that they comply with Misrad HaBriut’s standards. We will review the inspection report and correct any deficiency that needs to be corrected.
Do you buy fresh meat from the counter at Osher Ad in Jerusalem? If so, you want to watch this video published today by Arutz 10. The Hebrew is difficult to follow (I watched it twice) but to summarize, this is what they found in two Osher Ad supermarkets:
Badatz Beit Yosef’s response was that they do not have a mashgiach on the premises of Osher Ad. Therefore, any meat that is sold in Osher Ad under Atara is prepared and supervised in a different place and brought to Osher Ad already packaged with a hologram. In the video, however, a worker actually put holograms on packages of meat that were prepared in the store with an Atara label.
Osher Ad’s response on their Facebook page:
The videos that have recently been published are staged. There is no connection between what you see in the video and the narration that accompanies and interprets it. The chain promises always and forever to stand by our promise to the consumer to provide low prices, the highest kashrut and quality standards. That is how we have acted and that is how we will continue to act.
What do you think? I personally have never been in an Osher Ad but I know a lot of readers are- does the video tell the truth? The votes on Osher Ad’s Facebook page are 50% positive and 50% negative right now.
Misrad HaChaklaut announced today that during a routine test of eggs imported from Turkey, they discovered pesticide residues of an amount that is above the legal limit in Israel. As a result of this, all imports from that region will be tested for pesticide residues before being released for sale.
Did you know that Israel produces 2 billion eggs a year, and that is still not enough to supply the Israeli public? Israel therefore has to import approximately 150 million eggs a year, especially around Pesach and Rosh HaShanah. For comparison, the United States produces 75 billion eggs per year and Australia produces 392 million dozen. To date, eggs are imported into Israel from Turkey, Spain, and the Netherlands.
The Misrad HaChaklaut article doesn’t say what pesticide residue was found or whether this has happened before. It also doesn’t say what happened to the contaminated eggs- there hasn’t been a recall, so where did they go? Where they held until the test results came back or did we eat those eggs? Not a pleasant thought.
The Marker shows a different perspective of the countries that export eggs to Israel:
They also reminded us of the media storm surrounding the importing of eggs from Turkey in 2012 because in Turkey there is no requirement to vaccinate their chickens for Salmonella, as there is in Israel. At the same time, a study came out in the Poultry Science journal which showed an incidence of 60% Salmonella positive flocks in Turkey, 70% of which being Salmonella Enteritidis, a particularly pathogenic strain of Salmonella that caused a recall of approximately 500 million eggs in the United States in 2010. Because of this information, pressure was put on Misrad HaChaklaut to enforce the decades-old law which requires egg sorting stations to label which country eggs are produced in.
For more information about eggs in Israel, check out Aliyah tip #1: Understanding eggs (2015 update)
Channel 10’s “Bar Code” program went out into the field with Misrad HaBriut to see just how contaminated our water is- from the tap as well as from filtered water from Tami 4, Tzalul, Hadas, and Electra Bar.
What did they find? All of the filtered water tested had bacteria in it- more so than tap water in the same household- but almost of them were within the standard for normal water. The water was NOT tested for chemicals, chlorine levels, heavy metals, or other contaminants.
Two of the water filter companies responded saying that the machines tested were purchased years ago and the customers never changed the filters (at least through the filter company) or cleaned the water holder. This would explain the bacteria levels found.
Their conclusion? If you are one of the 1 in 3 Israeli families with a water filter in their house, if you are using it because you feel filtered water is healthier- don’t waste your money.
What do you think?
Watch the video on the Arutz 10 web site.
I came across a funny article tonight about generics. Ynet went to the supermarket and discovered that many store brands or other generics are produced by the same manufacturer as the brand name. Not only that, but the have the exact same ingredients and nutritional information- the only difference is the price. For couponing in the holy land readers this is not a new phenomenon (see previous post) but apparently this irked the author. Why? Because the different brands on the shelf that have different prices should be made by different manufacturers- that is real competition. If they are all made by the same manufacturer, it isn’t really competition. To that I say who cares?! For me, I get the same product at a lower price. If I purchase blue and white, even better.
I am not going to elaborate on the article more, but I will show you pictures of identical brands of the same product to save you time in the supermarket.
In an effort to increase sales after their 156 million shekel loss last quarter as well as the lowering/cancellation of import taxes on many food products, Shufersal has been increasing the number of generic products that they sell. Diapers are the newest addition to the lineup. As you can see below, the price can’t be beat- especially compared to premium brands Huggies and Pampers. As every parent knows, however, sometimes diapers can be too cheap- there are few things worse than a diaper that can’t hold in what it is meant to hold in.
Readers let us know- are these diapers worth the price or are they not really a bargain?