The cabinet on Sunday approved a bill to ease import controls on foods that will save Israeli consumers an estimated 1 billion shekels a year.
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The proposed changes will apply to foods including pasta, baked goods and breakfast cereals. It will eliminate the requirement for Health Ministry approval for each specific product, instead permitting the import of any item that complies with Israeli standards based solely on the importer’s declaration. Ministry inspectors will continue to inspect products in retail outlets and outdoor markets.
Certain “sensitive” categories of food, including dairy, animal products, baby food and fresh produce, are excluded from the proposed legislation. The import of these items will still require filling out the Health Ministry forms and receiving approval in advance.
In addition, importers will still be required to provide all the documents necessary to prove the safety of the food, whether from the manufacturer or from foreign standards agencies, and to submit them to the Health Ministry on request.
The bill recommends the establishment of a special unit to enforce the rules on food imports and to conduct random testing. It also states that the relevant government agencies are responsible for determining the authorities and responsibilities of all involved parties, including importers and retailers, as well as punitive measures in the event the new rules are violated.
Israeli food imports are an estimated 4.3 billion shekels a year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The foods that would be affected by the proposed changes account for half this amount. Government officials say that because the easing of controls is expected to lead to the import of foods not previously brought into Israel, the proportion of items affected by the changes is likely to increase.
The cabinet recommended that in the interim, before the bill is passed into law, the Health Ministry should ease its import controls for foods included in the draft law.
The provisions of the bill were among a number of recommendations made by a committee headed by the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker, that was appointed to find ways to lower the cost of living in Israel. Other members of the committee included the directors general of the health and economy ministries, as well as the head of the Finance Ministry’s budgets division.