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.
I hope everyone is having a relaxing and joyous holiday. I apologize to those who came looking for me the past few months- I was quite overloaded at work and unable to get time to research and post here. I hope that everyone transitioned from summer cooking to holiday cooking with ease. If you were able to start early and pack your freezer for the full month, you were ahead of most of us, me included. We had a few cash flow issues and decided to shop in bits and pieces rather than all at once, and boy, was that a mistake! As I am sure you have seen, a combination of factors led to a severe shortage of eggs, chicken, cottage cheese, and vegetables. We survived by having hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries for one holiday meal to my children’s delight. I raced back to the supermarket Thursday morning and grabbed the chicken before it was put on the shelves and carefully counted out how many tomatoes and cucumbers we will need for the holiday, trying to see what other vegetables could be substituted- even canned! The other shoppers and I were pretty somber as we trudged through the aisles picking up necessities as we went.
What happened this year that caused such shortages? For each product, there were different reasons:
Misrad HaChaklaut has been warning us of an egg shortage since highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) hit the poultry industry this spring in addition to closing the doors to imported eggs from Turkey. Other countries have been exporting to Israel, most notably Spain (ES), but the increased time it takes from laying to landing in the supermarket has caused shelf life problems as well. At the beginning of this week a shipment of six million eggs was diverted to a pasteurization facility because they arrived 10 days late. That would leave only six days from the date of arrival at the egg grading facility to the end of the sell-by date. The government approved the import of 7 million eggs without meches for September as a replacement for the lost eggs.
Between the Jewish holidays and the Muslim/Druze holiday of Eid al Adha (“The festival of the sacrifice” or chag hakorban), there weren’t any workers left in the slaughterhouses to process chicken. Beef, which has a much longer shelf life than chicken, wasn’t affected.
The constant flow of holidays-Shabbat-holidays also affected production of cottage cheese, which needs 24 hours straight to produce and has a shelf life of only 12 days. The price didn’t go up as far as I could see, but there was barely any to be had on the shelves.
That heat wave we had the past two months didn’t zap only us- it also zapped the vegetables attempting to grow in 50C greenhouses. Not only that, but a new virus has claimed the lives of vegetables in the South, exacerbating the shortage. In comparison to chicken and cottage cheese, vegetable prices have skyrocketed because…well…it isn’t exactly clear why they should be so much more expensive than the other products that have a limited supply. The wholesale price did rise somewhat but the supermarkets are taking a huge profit margin and that is what is causing the high prices. Tomatoes that have a wholesale price of 3.75 shekels/kg are sold to the consumer at 8.70 shekels/kg- even 10 shekels/kg. The wholesale price of cherry tomatoes was decided by the Grower’s Council to be 12.50-13.00 shekels/kg but they are being sold to the consumer at 20-25 shekels/kg. (You can check out wholesale/retail prices on the Ministry of Agriculture web site)
How to stop the price gouging? Many say that increasing import of vegetables will force competition and therefore lower prices. Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel has:
“…instructed Ministry of Agriculture personnel to enable extensive imports of fruits and vegetables at this time and with greater ease from Jordan and other countries. The aim is to overcome the shortage and bring prices down to their original level, while at the same time ensuring that these measures will not cause damage to farmers or to Israeli produce.”
While this sounds lovely, the truth is that no matter how low the wholesale price is, nothing is preventing the supermarket chains from doubling- even tripling the wholesale price. In fact, this was seen when the import tax was removed from apples- the prices actually went up! See my post about it here. The same with canned tuna- the import tax is gradually going down, but retail prices have stayed the same. So unless the government steps in and limits the markup on newly-tax-free items, the only people who are benefiting from these tax breaks are the supermarket chain owners- not the consumers. Hopefully the consumers’ unions will realize the futility of lowering taxes and push for more meaningful solutions.
To end this post on a positive note, below is a poor copy of a chart from yesterday’s Mekor Rishon showing the change in prices since 2011. Red is fruits/vegetables, green is housing prices, tan is food without fruits/vegetables, yellow is house maintenance, and pink is furniture and house supplies. Except for a blip in 2013, everything has gone down since 2011, and a few items even went into minus. Maybe the message here is that we need to take a step back and look at the big picture.
I don’t know about you, but every time I go to the store to buy vegetables, I am constantly surprised by the prices. In the beginning of the year, we were warned of high prices because of shemita and so I prepared accordingly. Since then, the Russian economy collapsed and the weather in Europe became so pleasant for growing vegetables that they stopped importing Israeli produce. Add to that the increased demand for Palestinian produce, and the fruit and vegetable prices dropped through the floor. The farmers were hysterical, leaving food in their fields to rot because they couldn’t earn back the money it cost to harvest the field.
I was quite enjoying my bounty when suddenly before Pesach the prices rose again. Why? No mentioned reason- probably because it was pre-Pesach. Last week, however, the cold weather that caused “the plague of hail” is being blamed for another increase in prices this week. Avocados, for example, are 15 shekels/kg and white grapes are 30 shekels/kg. Now it is “sharav”- let’s see if the prices will drop back down again.
Source: Yisrael HaYom
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)
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?
Too small for a full blog post but too large to ignore. Here are the latest tidbits from various news sources:
1. As we all know, winter is almost over and we have not had the greatest rainfall this season. What does that mean? Farmers will have to purchase water instead of relying on the rainfall leading to increased prices for fruits, vegetables, locally-produced meat, and milk. Source: NRG
2. Ayelet Shaked’s bill to increase the punishment for trespassing private agricultural land passed the second and third reading. Judges will now be able to sentence trespassers up to six months in jail. For those of you who are not aware, the beef industry has been slowly strangled by Bedouins who trespass and damage farmers’ property in the hopes that they will leave and the Bedouins will then take over the land. Hashomer Hahadash was formed to defend the farmers’ land and has an overwhelming amount of requests for help. I highly recommend becoming acquainted with this organization. You can learn about them from these videos:
If you were wondering what happened to Zionism in Israel, it is here with Hashomer Hahadash. Source: Facebook
3. The fighting between Co-op shop and Tnuva continues. Co-op purchased minimarkets in the “periphery” and claims that Tnuva won’t supply dairy products to them. Tnuva claims that Co-op won’t pay their bill. The court ruled that Tnuva has to supply the periphery with dairy products and Co-op has to pay their bill. Next on the agenda- peace in the Middle East. Source: Ynet
4. Rumors abound that Tnuva will be sold to the Chinese company Bright Food. The farmers protest. Will this lower the price of food? Not likely. Source: Ynet
5. In case you think I am picking on Tnuva, this latest story is about Shufersal. In December, the Customs Authority increased the amount of items that can be brought in with tax, including apples. Shufersal has decided to completely eliminate locally-grown apples in their stores since then. You might think that therefore the prices have gone down, but they have actually gone up significantly:
|מחיר ממוצע לק”ג/בשקלים||ינואר||פברואר||תחילת מרס|
|מחירי מוזהב ב-2013||7.99||7.17||7.29|
|מחירי מוזהב ב-2014||9.90||9.9||9.92|
|מחירי גרנד סמית ב-2013||7.99||7.31||7.70|
|מחירי גרנד סמית ב-2014||9.17||9.90||9.72|
|מחירי סטארקינג ב-2013||8.12||7.92||7.31|
|מחירי סטארקינג ב-2014||9.17||8.86||9.37|
|מחירי פינק קריפס 2013||8.44||8.99||10.95|
|מחירי פינק קריפס 2014||13.15||13.19||11.26|
In January, prices of apples jumped up between 12% and 56% while Shufersal (like all other supermarkets) are not paying customs duties! So much for opening the borders to lower prices (do you remember who said that? Hint: it was in a previous blog post). Source: Ynet
6. This last item might come as no surprise to everyone- people are not buying as much as they used to in the supermarkets! Even with “dramatic sales”, the food is not flying off the shelves.
|מכירות כספיות||מכירות כמותיות|
|רשתות אחרות (כרמי לוי, יינות ביתן, ויקטורי)||1.7%-||4.7%-|
Shufersal and Mega have lost the most, while the private minimarket has actually gained. The charedi supermarket chains have also increased their percentage of the market, possibly because of the lower prices. Source: Ynet
While I don’t really feel sorry for the supermarket chains, especially after seeing their “dramatic sales” of apples in the previous article, I really don’t feel bad for them because very soon their sales will be sky high within the next few weeks for Pesach.
That’s all for today. Enjoy!
In the past I have posted on Naftali Bennett’s plan to lower import taxes which will allow freer import of goods that will eventually lower prices. Yair Lapid announced the lowering of taxes on imported canned tuna, for example. Now Misrad Hakalkala is calling on you to give them advice- what do you think of the process? How should it work? What prices should be lowered next? Whatever you have to say, they want to hear.
Send your ideas, comments, advice and more
post: Misrad HaKalkala, 5 Bank Israel St, Jerusalem, POB 3166, Attn: Vaadat Lang for Import- Director General’s Office
Hurry! You have until December 6, 2013 to be heard.
Today is the second day of school for most children, which means the parents can start to get back to their regular schedule- traffic, office politics, and maybe even a quiet moment with a cuppa and the newspaper.
Since next week (!!!) starts the month full of holidays, I thought we could browse the sales in today’s newspaper together. So grab your cuppa (coffee or tea- depending on when you are reading this)- I will wait until you are ready.
Yesh (coupons only)
What else is in the paper?
Gossip in the supermarket;