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.