Government adopts European food standards in bid to tackle cost of living

‘You know how Israelis always come back from Europe and say, Why is it so much cheaper…?’ PM says move to cut most guidelines aims to lower prices of Israeli goods and imports

Prime Minister Yair Lapid unveils an initiative to lower the cost of food on September 28, 2022. (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid unveils an initiative to lower the cost of food on September 28, 2022. (Courtesy)

The government approved a plan to adopt European food safety standards, removing the vast majority of Israeli guidelines, in an effort to address the country’s high cost of living.

The changes will affect the production and import of items such as canned vegetables, pasta, rice, candies, spices, soup powder, condiments and milk products, among others.

“You know how Israelis always come back [from Europe] and say, ‘Why is it so much cheaper in Berlin?’ Because Berlin uses European standards and they are cheaper. So we are bringing them to Israel,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a video statement about the measure.

Indeed, Israel’s cost of living is one of the highest among countries in the OECD, though this has generally been attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers, who are therefore able to raise prices, as well as import restrictions that keep out international firms.

The decision to adopt the European standards was made by an interministerial committee, led by Yoel Bris, the former legal adviser to Finance Ministry. It also included representatives from the Health Ministry, Economy Ministry, Finance Ministry, Justice Ministry, Consumer Protection Authority and Competition Authority.

The adoption of European food standards in place of Israeli ones will go into effect on January 1. Of the 127 food standards currently in effect, 97 will be eliminated immediately for Israeli importers on that date.

For domestic manufacturers, however, those 97 safety standards will gradually be phased out over the course of four years, with 60 being eliminated on January 1, 21 being eliminated a year later, one the year after that and finally 15 being eliminated on August 1, 2026. Another 19 quality standards will be scaled back on January 1.

In addition, the interministerial committee recommended that Israel adopt the American and European quality control standards for honey, olive oil, instant coffee and roasted coffee, and allow importers and manufacturers to decide which of the three standards to follow. Before this can go into effect, the current law governing those products must be updated, however.

“The committee followed one and only one guiding principle for allowing Israeli standards to remain: An Israeli standard will only remain in place if eliminating it would cause a total regulatory vacuum that would threaten the public health,” the government said in a statement.

Cabinet ministers hailed the move as critical in the fight against the high cost of living.

“Matching Israeli regulations with those accepted around the world is the key to increasing competition and bringing down prices for the consumer. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and to add specialized and unnecessary bureaucracy,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said.

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