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Deceiving the customer has long since become a national sport in Israel. But sometimes, astonishingly, even the legislature lends a hand to it.

In 1993, the Knesset enacted a particularly bad law that permitted the meat we eat to be injected with water, up to a ceiling of 10 percent of the total weight.

But since the Health Ministry and the Industry Ministry both do a miserable job of supervising, the manufacturers gradually raised the percentage in order to increase their profits.

An examination conducted by the Israel Consumer Council in 1997 found that the proportion of water in the meat was sometimes as high as 46 percent, and a document prepared by the Knesset noted that "in practice, the water in the meat can reach 70 percent."

The water, however, is not the end of the story. The manufacturers also utilize this opportunity to add chemicals - nitrates, phosphates and gelatins - to make the meat softer.

But these unhealthy additives give the meat a sickly gray color, so the manufacturers must also add red food coloring to make it look better. And we have to eat all this.

Thus what we have here is not only deception, but also a blow to both our health and our pockets.

Over the years, there has been growing public pressure to halt this despicable practice and to completely forbid the addition of either water or chemicals to meat.

A year ago, two MKs, Leah Ness (Likud) and Gila Finkelstein (National Religious Party), submitted bills in this vein; but in an astonishing move, the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, chaired by MK Shaul Yahalom (NRP), turned these bills on their heads - because of the incredible stance presented by the Health Ministry.

In response to a question from Ronen Regev-Kabir of the Consumer Council, the ministry's representative, Dr. Herbert Singer, said the ministry had concluded that padding the meat with 10 percent water was not economically worthwhile for the manufacturers - and therefore, the ministry does not bother enforcing the existing law.

Can you believe it? And does Health Minister Dan Naveh know about, and stand behind, this scandal?

Two days ago, a flawed version of the bill was approved by the Labor and Welfare Committee, with the aid of chairman Yahalom and committee member Aryeh Eldad (National Union).

The bill, formulated in line with the ministry's stance, essentially divides the market in two.

It forbids adding water or chemicals to "fresh or frozen meat," but allows manufacturers to add any amount of water and chemicals they please to "processed meat."

In other words, the existing situation will become even worse. Most customers cannot distinguish between "processed goulash" and "goulash," and even if they could, they would not know what the difference entails ("processed goulash" actually sounds quite tasty).

The customer will notice that one package is - or so it seems - considerably cheaper than the other. But he will not know that he is essentially buying a lot of water and chemicals.

Galit Avishai, director-general of the Consumer Council, was very disappointed by the result and said that the new bill will not only not solve the problem, it will make matters worse.

Therefore, Health Minister Dan Naveh must enter the fray and, together with Yahalom, freeze work on the bill.

And the Labor and Welfare Committee must reconsider the matter and enact a different law - one that will protect consumers and competely forbid injecting meat with water and chemicals.