Independence Day BBQs, disposable plastic harm planet, Green groups warn

Greenpeace slams Agriculture Ministry for rosy report on rising beef consumption; Adam Teva V’Din vows to bring Israel into line with Europe via law to ban single-use plastics

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

Israelis barbeque at Dolfinarium beach park on Israel's 68th Independence Day, May 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
Israelis barbeque at Dolfinarium beach park on Israel's 68th Independence Day, May 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Environmental groups warned Monday of the cost to the planet and public health of Israel’s traditional Independence Day barbeque picnics in nature.

Adam Teva V’Din issued a “very modest” calculation that the disposable plastic plates, cups and cutlery used by the 1.5 million Israelis expected to throng picnic areas in forests run by the KKL-JNF on Thursday would generate 132 tons of climate-warming greenhouse gases, equivalent to 30,000 private cars driving the 67.5 kilometers (42 miles) from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. This figure covers the entire life of the plastic goods, from production through to waste disposal at landfill sites.

In addition, the organization estimated that an average coal-fired barbeque emits around 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of carbon dioxide (while a gas-fired one produces a third of that) and that the cost of a single kilogram of beef is 60 kilograms of carbon dioxide — when all the costs of transporting, feeding and slaughtering the cattle are taken into account.

Adam Teva V’Din predicted the accumulation of 22 tons of plastic waste at KKL picnic sites.

Trash in nature, from a presentation by former MK Miki Haimovich during a Knesset Interior Affairs and Environment Committee meeting on waste, June 2, 2020.

Greenpeace Israel, meanwhile, slammed what it called the “archaic and disparaging” attitude that the Agriculture Ministry showed toward environmental protection, public health and animal welfare in a statement it issued Monday about the rise in beef consumption and price cuts in the run-up to last year’s Independence Day.

“Cheap meat costs the planet and our health dearly,” the organization said in a statement.

The ministry reported that during last year’s limited celebrations, under the shadow of COVID-19, Israelis had bought just three times the normal weekly amount of meat for the festival, rather than four times the weekly amount as normal.

Despite the pandemic and its economic fallout, 2020 saw beef purchases rise by seven percent compared with 2019, when per capita beef consumption stood at 18 kilograms (40 pounds) for the year, the ministry’s research unit found.

A live shipment of calves to be fattened and slaughtered. (Animals)

Most fresh beef comes from live shipments of calves to Israel for fattening and slaughter.

Ministry figures show that 66,137 head of cattle were imported to Israel during the first three months of this year, almost double the number (39,130) shipped in during the same period last year.

According to the ministry, imports of chilled beef are also up, in line with government policy to increase quotas, which reached 18,300 tons in 2019. Chilled meat imports dropped to 15,500 tons in 2020, said the ministry, because hotels and restaurants were closed and had not placed orders. On the other hand, the ministry’s move to extend the shelf life of chilled meat means that countries such as the US and Brazil can now ship it to Israel, whereas before, they were limited to costly air transport, according to the statement. Imported frozen meat, said the ministry, has declined, although it did not provide figures.

Israel is top in the world in per capita consumption of chicken and in fourth place in per capita consumption of beef, after the US, Argentina and Brazil, Greenpeace said. Between 2015 and 2019, per capita beef consumption went up by 24% — the biggest rise among all OECD countries.

“Livestock causes enormous damage to the planet and is responsible, among other things, for about 14-18% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause the accelerated warming of the planet,” Greenpeace said. “In order to stop the climate crisis, a dramatic reduction in meat consumption is required.”

Clearing rain forest in northern Argentina and preparing it for pasture. (Greenpeace)

Greenpeace charged that the increase in beef consumption in Israel in recent years came mainly via thawed meat that originated in South America in areas where woods have been slashed and burned and turned into pasture for cattle.

The organization also criticized the Agriculture Ministry for remarking positively that the price of frozen sausages dropped by some 14% in the run-up to last year’s Independence Day, “while the World Health Organization has released clear data indicating a link between red meat and processed meat and cancer. What else does the Ministry of Agriculture want to be proud of? Importing tobacco to reduce cigarette prices? ”

According to Adam Teva V’Din, Israel is the world’s second largest user of disposable plastic. The organization said it would introduce legislation in the coming Knesset to ban what it said “pollutes from the moment it is produced. It pollutes the soil and creates a massive amount of global warming gas. It is used for a few minutes but contaminates the entire public space.”

A few local authorities, among them Upper Galilee in the north and Eilat on the Red Sea have passed bylaws that forbid people from taking single-use plastic into open spaces.

That was after Justice Ministry officials reversed their previous position that single-use plastic was widely used and part of a consensus, and therefore should not be banned.

A 2019 survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 58% of Israelis backed legislation to outlaw disposable plastic items.

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