How cheaply can milk really be produced and sold if the big dairies and retail chains are bypassed? The leaders of the cottage cheese protest teamed up with farmers from the Israeli Cattle Breeders Association in order to answer that very question, and reached the conclusion: 30%.
The farmers and cottage cheese protesters leased a production line at a small dairy and produced 4,000 liters of milk, which they claim is perfectly kosher and high-quality. Tuesday, they gave away plastic bags of the 3% fat milk in various cities, giving the recipients a choice of receiving the milk for free or paying NIS 3.40 per liter - with all the proceeds going to charity.
The same 3% fat milk normally retails for NIS 4.95 per liter.
Yet the NIS 3.40 price that farmers and cottage cheese protesters charged for the milk yesterday covers all their costs, they say: NIS 2.25 per liter to farmers for milk, packaging (15 agorot per liter ), dairy labor (45 agorot ), VAT (47 agorot ) and transportation to the locations of sale (8 agorot per liter ).
And NIS 3.40 is still high, they claim, because they were producing such a small amount. When produced in bulk, milk can be even cheaper, they conclude.
Farmers and protest leaders distributed the milk yesterday at open markets in Sderot, Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. They specifically chose Sderot based on solidarity, they say: Not only do the residents struggle to make a living, but they do so under constant threat of missile and mortar attack.
"We deliberately chose a staple under control of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, which theoretically is supposed to be sold at a low, fair price," said Yaakov Lebi, who is among the original leaders of the cottage cheese protest - which triggered widespread protests over product and housing prices in recent weeks.
"The maximum price set [by the government] is NIS 5 per bag, but even a product like that could be 30% cheaper," Lebi said.
If retailers are gouging consumers even when it comes to staples, it means the regulator fell asleep on the job, Lebi said. He also challenged the conclusions of the food-prices committee led by Sharon Kedmi - director-general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry - blaming cattle farmers for the high cost of dairy. Lebi said those findings have been completely disproved.
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