Government deal to boost beef industry pilloried as bad for climate, public health

Agriculture minister says NIS 420 million accord will help cut prices, while rights activists say permanent customs tax exemption on import of live calves is a license for abuse

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A herd of cattle graze in the Golan Heights (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
A herd of cattle graze in the Golan Heights (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A range of activist groups on Thursday denounced a new deal between the Agriculture and Finance ministries and the Israeli Cattle Breeders’ Association to boost the beef industry.

The agreement, reached Wednesday, commits the government to investing more than NIS 420 million ($122 million) into the local beef industry over the next seven years; removing customs duties on imported beef products; turning a temporary exemption on customs duties for livestock imports — which is renewed annually — into a permanent exemption; and increasing the number of foreign workers that can enter Israel to work in the sector.

Agriculture Minister Oded Forer described the agreement as, “more good news for dealing with the high cost of living,” that would help cut the price of beef, “a product that is in increasing and constant demand from year to year,” while also supporting the cattle breeders and giving the sector certainty.

The Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians and the Israel Forum for Sustainable Nutrition, however, warned in a statement that encouraging beef consumption was bad for public health, the environment and for fighting climate change.

According to UN estimates, livestock is responsible for around 14 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases, especially methane.

Animals Now said the measure would provide an economic incentive to “an industry that abuses animals.”

“To continue to give a customs exemption for the import of live calves is to give benefits to a handful of businessmen, and to transfer hundreds of millions of shekels from the public purse to the meat industry, while humanity is dealing with the climate crisis, is simply absurd,” it said.

According to Agriculture Ministry figures, a record 856,630 calves and lambs were shipped to Israel in 2021 for fattening and slaughter, an increase of 42% over a year earlier.

Per capita, Israelis are among the highest consumers of beef in the world.

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