couponing in the holy land

Frugal food shopping for the Anglo Israeli

Archive for the tag “ministry of agriculture”

The chicken that laid the golden egg

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:

Eggs:

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.

Chicken:

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.

Cottage cheese:

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.

Vegetables:

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.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday!

Aliyah tip #8- Are you sure that food is organic?

Making the commitment to eat only organic food is not something easily done when you have a tight budget.  Unfortunately, healthier food seems to always be more expensive than processed junk food, and organic produce is no exception.  Israel is a major exporter of organic produce to the EU- 13% of our exported produce is organic, which translated to 85,504 tons of vegetables, 2192 tons of fruits, and 2230 tons of citrus in 2013.   It might surprise you to learn that until 2008 there was no legislation governing organic produce- for example what conditions it can be grown under, what products can be used on organic fruits and vegetables and what symbols are acceptable to identify organic produce.  Since the new law was passed in 2005 (it did not come into effect until 2008) these issues have all been addressed as well as a penalty for falsely labeling a product as organic when it is not.  The law has been written in English and Hebrew so feel free to follow the link and read for yourself.

All produce that is certified organic in Israel must have the Ministry of Agriculture’s symbol, shown here:

In addition, each certified organic product must have the symbol of the certifying agency that inspected the operator.  There are three approved agencies and their symbols are shown below.

In order to ensure that these foods are truly produced without unapproved chemicals such as pesticides, the Ministry of Agriculture samples fresh fruits and vegetables as well as processed foods such as bread and rice cakes and submits them for laboratory analysis.  The results of those tests have recently been published and it is good news for organic consumers.  When products were first tested in 2009, 24% showed the presence of unapproved chemicals.  In 2010 the percentage dropped to 8.6%; 2011 went down further to 3.6%, 2012 went back up to 6.8% and 2013 again showed a downturn to 3.8%.

Since Israel exports organic produce to the EU, it is subject to periodic auditing from the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission.  In 2013 they performed an audit on the production of organic produce in Israel.  The full report can be found on their web site along with the Israeli government’s response.  Overall they were satisfied with the Israeli legislation (which is based on the European legislation) and its implementation.  They felt that Israel’s sampling technique and the amounts sampled should be improved as well as the quality of inspections performed at the producer level.  They did find the presence of certain illegal pesticides which the Israeli government agreed to enforce more strongly.  One comment I did find disturbing was that the Europeans were dissatisfied that “foreign” produce was intermingling with Israeli produce and being labeled as Israeli produce.  What is this “foreign” produce?  Produce that comes from the West Bank- Yehuda and Shomron.  What was Israel’s response?  That this matter is an issue for the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the European Commission to decide.  Once it is agreed upon at that level, it will be implemented on the “ground level”.

For a list of products that can be used on organic produce, click on the Organic Pesticide Publication (Hebrew/English)

Sources: Ynetsimun_tozeret_organit

SHMITA: The last day for planting is coming soon!

The Ministry of Agriculture, the Vaadat Shmita, and The Ministry of Religious Services have joined together to create a web site full of information for farmers, gardeners, and those responsible for public gardens.  Unfortunately the information is all in Hebrew, but there is a place where you can send in questions and comments, so feel free to ask for translations.

They have publicized two very important dates:

  1. Shmita begins on the first day of Tishrei, 25 Sept 2014.
  2. All new planting (נטיעה והשתילה) must be finished by Tu B’Av- 11 August 2014

 

שנת שמיטה תשע"ה

 

 

Collateral damage from Tzuk Eitan: milk and produce?

If you have been in the supermarket recently, you might have seen a sign similar to this one:

war

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of produce in the store and the prices are relatively low, but how long will it last? What produce is likely to be the most affected by the war?

You might not realize when we hear that a rocket fell in a “Shetach Patuach” (open area), it means that the missile might have fallen in an agricultural area which has crops or livestock.  According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there have been a number of fields and greenhouses damaged from missiles along with 3 poultry houses and 2 dairy farms. Additionally, movement and encampment of Israeli troops around Gaza can also damage fields.  Add to the mix the abandonment of foreign workers subsequent to the death of a Thai agricultural worker and the urging of the Thai government to have Thai workers relocated out of danger and there is a serious risk to the ability of the South to provide produce to the supermarkets.  A representative of Kibbutz Alumim who was interviewed, however, said that July-August is not that damaging to the fields because it is “between seasons.”  There are peppers growing in greenhouses and there are peanuts to be picked in the fields near Ashkelon.  The army has built trenches in an area that was just recently their organic carrots field and it will take years to rework the land to be ready to plant again.  They aren’t complaining, however, especially considering that next year is a shmita year.  Other kibbutzim weren’t able to collect their carrots and they are still laying in the ground.  Kibbutz Saad wasn’t able to package their carrots so other kibbutzim helped them.

Not only produce is affected by the shelling.  Kibbutzim in the area report a decrease in their cows’ milk production because the cows are too stressed.  Some had to drop the number of milkings because the farmers are spending all of their time in their protected rooms.  One kibbutz lost 105 calves and has 120 wounded from rocket fire.  This will affect future generations of cattle in the dairy farm since these calves are used for replacements for the cows currently being milked.

There is one bright spot in this story.  The organization HaShomer HaHadash has assembled groups of volunteers to go south and help harvest, package, and do whatever else is needed for these farmers or their family members who received a tzav 8 or in place of Thai workers who have left.  [If you are interested in volunteering, email negevshomer@gmail.com or call 08-6801314]

Farmers do receive compensation from the Ministry of Agriculture for their losses based on the value of their past earnings.  These numbers vary depending on how far away they are from the Gaza Strip- from 80% if they are up to 7 km away to 40% if they are 7-40 km away and 20% if they are over 40 km away.  Considering the long range and increased capability of the missiles used during this current campaign, farmers are complaining that the 40% should be raised to 80%.  They also petitioned the Ministry of Defense to provide protective shelters for workers in the field to allow them to continue working.  The request was passed to the Ministry of Agriculture, but after the death of the Thai worker the Knesset directed the Ministry of Defense to provide shelters.

When all that is said and done, what produce is expected to be more expensive as a result of Tzuk Eitan?

  • Fruit- not grown in the South.  Prices should stay the same.
  • Cucumbers- grown in the Center.  Prices should stay the same.
  • Potatoes and carrots- grown in the South.  Prices for now should stay low because inventory is being taken from refrigerated stock.
  • Tomatoes- grown in the South.  Prices went up in general because of the current heat wave.  There is a significant amount of tomatoes grown in the North so there shouldn’t be a lack of tomatoes on the shelves.
  • All produce next year- since the fields can’t be prepared for next year, expect a decrease in inventory and an increase in prices.
  • Milk- the price is controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture and there is enough milk production in other areas of the country to prevent a shortage.

Expect this information to change as the campaign continues and shmita approaches.

Source: Ynet 14/7/2014, Mekor Rishon 25/7/2014, Motzash 25/7/2014

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”

We have all had that experience when you bring home something to eat, open it up, and find something dreadfully wrong with it.  Whether it is a rat in a loaf of bread, rotten food despite the still-good expiration date, or anything else, sometimes food production can leave the consumer with a few unpleasant surprises.

So who do you complain to when you have a problem with your food?

Of course, this being Israel, it is complicated.

The Ministry of Agriculture surpervises living food animals and products (milk, eggs and honey) until the animal’s death or when the product leaves the “sorting station.”  After that, the Ministry of Health is responsible.  The Ministry of Agriculture is also responsible for supervising the imports of non-processed food of animal origin (beef cuts, shell eggs, etc.)

Within the Ministry of Health, Sherut HaMazon supervises factories, and Briut HaSviva supervises restaurants, supermarkets, and duchanim– temporary food stands.

Within each city or district (moetzah), there is at least one veterinarian, who is responsible (among other things) for inspecting factories, restaurants, etc.  They also inspect of all food of animal origin that enters the city/district from another city/district (bedikat mishne or bedikat trom shivuk).  These veterinarians are hired by the city/district but are supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Got that?

Returning to complaints:

If you want to complain about a food in a restaurant, supermarket, or food stand, you should speak with your city/district veterinarian and the Ministry of Health- Briut HaSviva.  You should, of course, also complain to the place you purchased the item.

If you want to complain about a manufactured food item, you should again speak with your city/district veterinarian and also speak to the local district of Ministry of Health- Sherut HaMazon.

Formal complaints to government offices need to be written.  You can come in to the office and they will help you fill out the paperwork or you can send an email/FAX.  It is extremely helpful if you keep the offending item for laboratory analysis (frozen is OK) as well as the original packaging so the item can be traced.

Where to complain (תלונות):

  • City/district veterinarian- you should call the iriyah and ask to speak with the veterinarian.  Their contact info is also frequently found on the city/district web site.
  • Misrad HaBriut has instituted a contact center to help citizens get better access to the departments they need.  You can call *5400 and your complaint will be directed to the correct department.  Alternatively, you can send a fax to 02-565-5969 or an email to call.briut@moh.health.gov.il for Sherut HaMazon.  General complaints or questions to Misrad HaBriut should be sent to pniot@moh.health.gov.il .  I don’t know if the phone numbers are still vaild, but the contact information for each district office is listed here.

Don’t forget, this is Israel, and the only way to get something accomplished is by being a kartziah (literally, a tick).  Don’t expect an instant answer, but don’t be afraid to keep calling/writing until you get satisfaction.

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