Hundreds of agriculturists held protests Sunday against a government plan to reform their industry by reducing import taxes on produce and opening up the market to competition, warning it won’t reduce costs for end consumers as it is the suppliers, not the producers, who are artificially inflating prices.
They also warned that the reform risks destroying Israel’s agriculture industry, and thus leaving Israel vulnerable to boycotts and other punitive measures.
Fruit, vegetable, and egg producers gathered in the agricultural community of Moshav Zar’it, located near the border with Lebanon and a heartland of Israel’s egg-producing industry, the Ynet website reported Sunday.
They set up a protest tent nearby and vowed it will remain until the reform, unveiled last week by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer, is canceled.
Haim Dahan, from Moshav Tzuriel, who is one of the northern area representatives on the council for the poultry industry, told Ynet the prices are the result of suppliers who buy directly from the producers and then mark up the cost of products like eggs when they sell them to supermarkets.
“The problem of the prices is not with us,” he said.
“Their share of the profits is very big and that is what needs to be addressed,” added Dahan.
Dahan warned that those living in the area of the Lebanese border, where agriculture communities bolster border security, will simply leave if they are not able to earn a living.
“If everyone leaves the army will need to fill out places,” he said.
“There is no reason for someone to live here opposite Hezbollah and to hold the country’s border if he hasn’t got anything to eat or drink,” he said, referring to the Lebanese terror group backed by Iran.
“Liberman, with his decision, is destroying the foundations of the state,” said Leah Yogev from Moshav Shomera, who runs a family poultry business.
“He [Liberman] is abandoning the nutritional security of Israel,” Yogev said, warning that if Israel relies on imports for its fresh produce it will be at risk from anti-Israel boycotts that could cut off supplies.
Like Dahan, she said the high prices in Israel compared to Europe are a result of the intermediaries between producers and outlets, not the farmers and poultry industry.
She said the eggs that are currently brought in from abroad cost the same as local produce in the shops because mediators are still taking their share.
“He is not saving the consumer anything,” Yogev said.
There were similar demonstrations in the southern Arava region along Route 90 and other locations around the country, according to Ynet.
The planned reform will gradually over five years reduce import tariffs on most fruit and vegetables, and will immediately reduce them on eggs, avocado, garlic, peas, beans, dates, pineapple and artichokes, among others.
In addition, Israel will recognize European standards for fruits and vegetables.
The ministries said the plan will also lead to a significant increase in the range of products available to Israelis throughout the year.
In a joint statement last week unveiling the plan, the finance and agriculture ministries said the reform will save Israeli consumers NIS 2.7 billion ($827 million) a year.
According to the ministries, the price of many fresh produce items has shot up by 80% in recent years.
The reform is part of the Economic Arrangements Law, which will be included in the coming 2021-2022 budget.
It also includes over NIS 2 billion ($613 million) in budgeting to increase productivity in the local agriculture industry.
Farmers will receive stipends based on cultivated areas of land as well as tax benefits. Egg farmers will get direct subsidies for each egg they produce with a priority given to those in the Galilee region in the north of the country.
Agriculturists have threatened strikes as one measure to combat the reform.