Lots of meat for Independence Day, but at what cost?

Lots of meat for Independence Day, but at what cost?

'Missing' heads of cattle won't raise steak price, said an expert, but prices are higher than they should be

Cows roaming in the Golan. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)
Cows roaming in the Golan. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

There should be plenty of meat for Israelis preparing their grills for Israeli Independence Day next week, according to Haim Dayan, chairman of the Israeli Association of Beef Cattle Breeders. Despite the news that a ship bound for Israel with 7,000 heads of Australian cattle is stuck in the south seas, there is plenty more meat to go around. “In 2013 Israel imported 157,000 heads of cattle, and this year, based on current trends, we will import about 170,000,” said Dayan. “A ‘loss’ of 7,000 heads of cattle will not raise prices.”

Prices may not go up, but they’re already far too high, according to Yael Shavit, a spokeswoman for the Israel Cattle Breeder’s Council. “They are importing a lot of cattle, more each year, and as a result the cattle growers are getting less per kilo. But we don’t see prices for consumers going down. Quite the opposite,” she said.

Israel is a country without the wide open spaces of places such as Australia, a large supplier of cattle for slaughter. While most of Israel’s frozen meat comes from Uruguay, where it is slaughtered and frozen, much of the country’s supply of fresh meat comes from Australia. The animals are shipped by boat, quarantined to ensure that they are disease free, and brought to market. The process, said Shavit, takes about six months.

Australian news reports said on Monday that a freighter carrying 7,000 heads of cattle bound for Israel was stuck in the waters off the Western Australian coast, near Rottnest Island. The ship apparently has a history of problems and its owner, cattle exporter Wellard, does not think it will be able make the trip to Israel. Instead, the ship is being rerouted to Vietnam, the report said.

Facebook posts on consumer interest group pages expressed concern that the news could impact prices of meat for Independence Day. One poster said that, even though the cattle on the ship would not be slaughtered and brought to market in time for the holiday next week, when demand for burgers, hot dogs and steaks will be very high. Producers in Israel are notorious for using any excuse to hike prices and might try to use the ensuing “shortage” as an excuse to raise prices, the poster added.

Dayan said that there was nothing to worry about. “It’s really a drop in the bucket. There are plenty of cows awaiting slaughter, and we don’t anticipate a shortage or a price increase.”

Shavit agrees regarding present price levels. “There’s no question that this ship’s failure to make it to Israel will not impact prices right now, because it would take about six months to process them and get them into the stores. It’s possible that there might be an impact later on, although we have plenty of cattle imports to make up for it.”

But Shavit couldn’t say whether or not the supermarkets would use the Australian incident as an excuse to raise prices in the future. “When I say prices aren’t going up I mean producer prices,” she said. “There is not going to be shortage of beef that would engender a producer price increase.

“But I can’t comment on what the retail outlets are going to do with this,” Shavit said. “Clearly there is something else going on with the prices of meat in the retail sector, because the price processors are paying to producers keeps going down, while the price at the store keeps going up.” In the past, supermarkets cited shortages as the reason for the fluctuation of prices, but, according to Shavit, “there is no shortage. As to why prices are so high and keep going up, you will have to ask the retailers.”

A spokeswoman for Supersol, the country’s largest supermarket chain, said she could not comment on whether the Australian ship mishap would have an impact on retail prices.

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