Israel's Health Minister to 'Cooperate With Business’ on Food Labeling

Food companies want to ease requirements, which arose because of country's high obesity rate

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The wildly popular peanut-buttery treat sells over two million bags a month.
The wildly popular peanut-buttery treat sells over two million bags a month.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman intends to cooperate with the Economy Ministry and importers, and may accept some of their demands to change and postpone a reform mandating the labeling of food products deemed unhealthy, TheMarker has learned.

“We’re scheduling a joint discussion with them and will listen to their comments,” Litzman’s bureau told TheMarker. “It’s not going to be a one-sided process. We’re committed to the labeling reform and will work to implement it in cooperation with businesses, as we have done until now. We involved manufacturers in discussions and we’re open to comments. Ultimately a labeling process will be set, and will take effect for the good of the public.”

As a result, consumers may be the ones to pay. TheMarker recently reported that Osem’s CEO stated that none of the company’s snack foods would receive a red warning label, reserved for foods with a large amount of sugar, trans fats and salt. Osem, Israel’s largest food manufacturer, sells snacks including Bamba. In addition, pudding cups containing five teaspoons of sugar would likewise not receive a red label.

On Monday, TheMarker reported that the Economy Ministry, Justice Ministry and Finance Ministry had taken up the food importers’ stance and were trying to block the labeling regulation in its current format. The regulation was supposed to take effect in six months.

In an interview on Tuesday, Economy Minister Eli Cohen expressed confidence that the Health Ministry would acquiesce to his demands to delay and change the labeling regulation. Cohen is seeking less strict labeling requirements.

Economy minister cheers Litzman's approach

“Litzman’s approach to advance the reform and come to agreements is the right one,” said Cohen, arguing that he was not acting on behalf of businesses at consumers’ expense.

“The argument that our stance stems from political ties to big business goes against reality,” he said, arguing that the bill in its current form actually suits the big food monopolies. It will limit imports and harm small manufacturers, he argued. Uneven implementation will harm competition and the variety of products available, he added.

The draft regulations are based on the recommendations of a committee led by the Health Ministry, in light of Israel’s obesity rate. Israel has a higher rate of obesity than any European nation and is second on a global ranking that includes childhood obesity. The committee included representatives of the economy, finance and justice ministries, which now are objecting to the recommendations. The committee called to implement a Chilean policy requiring manufacturers and importers to put red warnings on products with a large amount of sugar, trans fats and salt.

The draft calls for implementation to begin January 2018. Labeling requirements based on stricter nutrition standards would take effect July 2019. The standards are to be tightened yet again by the end of 2020.

The Economy Ministry submitted a professional paper to the Health Ministry saying that such labeling was not a globally accepted practice, and went against the accepted standards of regulations in developed countries, and could create a significant obstacle to imports. It would discriminate against imports because local manufacturers could adapt their products to the labeling standards, and because putting stickers on imported foods would raise their costs, argued the Economy Ministry.

Ronny Linder-Ganz contributed to this report.

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