One of the overlooked clauses in the agreement between Likud and Finance Minister-designate Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is a plan to create a food authority with the goal of bringing down prices and improving quality.
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Like Kahlon’s plans for the housing market, the food authority would consolidate his control over an important sector of the economy. The proposal is almost certain to stir strong opposition from other ministries and the food industry.
Plans to establish an authority date back as far as 1966. Most recently the issue was raised in 2012, after the social-justice protests the year before. But again it met opposition from all the relevant ministries.
“Right now each authority supervises a handful of areas; there are needless rules and duplicate supervision, duplicate rules and unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Yehuda Meirovitch, a former deputy chief of the Health Ministry’s veterinary services. “There are constant problems of matters falling between the cracks.”
Under the proposal, an interministerial committee would craft legislation creating the authority in time to be added to the 2016 Economic Arrangements Law.
The authority would replace 15 different government bodies that exist today to monitor food making and sales. The various agencies, all jealous of the others’ power and budgets, often compete with one another and claim overlapping authority while creating needless duplication in some cases and ignoring critical issues in others.
The food industry has sought a single authority for at least a decade, but it has met resistance mainly from the health, agriculture and economy ministries. The absence of a single authority has often caught the government unprepared for a multifaceted crisis like the 2003 Remedia baby-formula affair that led to three infants’ deaths.
“One of the conclusions from the Remedia scandal was that no one body held all the authority in the food segment, so the odds of something like that happening again remain high,” said Galit Avishai, chairwoman of the nonprofit group Public Trust.
“The quality of food would be higher with a national authority and reduce the risk of your finding problematic insecticides in food, or food being sold past its sell-by date or with dangerous bacteria,” she said.
The proposed food authority would ensure safety for processed and raw foods, and set standards for growing, transporting, selling and storing food. It would also deal with wastage, which by some estimates amounts to 6 billion shekels ($1.5 billion) annually.
Observers are divided on whether Kahlon will succeed. Meirovitch for one is optimistic. “Kahlon has emerged as a powerful figure in the government, especially now that Avigdor Lieberman isn’t joining,” he said.
But an Agriculture Ministry official voiced skepticism. “The Agriculture Ministry will never agree to surrender its authority, and neither will other ministries,” he said, requesting anonymity. “Since the 1960s they’ve talked about an authority, and this time it won’t happen either.”