High Customs Duties for the Meat-is-murder Crowd

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Animal-rights groups consider the transport of calves by ship from Australia or Romania serious abuse. Credit: Ilya Melnikov

Bad guys at the Finance Ministry tried to screw the Israelis once again. They decided to cut our high customs duties on meat and dairy imports in order to lower prices. But what seemed right and progressive for a moment turned out to be bad and unacceptable. After all, drinking milk is a crime and eating meat is murder.

The pressure to lower prices began with the social protest in the summer of 2011. The people realized that we’re living in a country with an insane cost of living, overpriced housing and food prices dozens of percentage points higher than in Europe and the United States.

There are many reasons for the high food prices: monopolistic markets,  exaggerated kashrut demands, obstructions, restrictions and draconian customs barriers as high as 212 percent. To ease the problem somewhat, the treasury, with the support of the Agriculture Ministry, recommends waiving customs on a specific quantity of dairy products and fresh meat, and abolishing customs duties on calves.

But the animal-rights organizations are opposed. They consider the transport of calves by ship from Australia or Romania serious abuse. What they really want is for us to stop eating meat, drinking milk and frying eggs.

Until now, there have been no duties on calves weighing under 250 kilograms, so importers starve their calves on the way to Israel. If a calf is unloaded weighing 252 kilograms, the importer has to pay full customs. So the new regulations are actually more humane. They allow the import of calves at any weight, without customs. This will greatly reduce the abuse on the ships.

Sixty percent of the meat in Israel is frozen and comes from South America. The rest is fresh meat from calves raised in Israel. Frozen meat is far cheaper than fresh meat, but it’s also of lower quality. The people who buy it have low incomes. The rich eat expensive fresh meat.

But if we lower customs, the price of fresh meat will fall and the poor will also be able to eat fresh meat, which is tastier and healthier. Why should only the rich benefit? Don’t the poor have rights?

The truth is, the animal-rights organizations want to outlaw the import of calves entirely. If that happens, the price of fresh meat will rise sharply and the middle class won’t be able to buy fresh meat either. Only CEOs of banks and insurance companies will eat fresh meat. Is that fair?

I understand and even respect the concerns of animal-rights organizations. I also identify with their battle to improve animals’ living conditions. There should be laws to prevent animal abuse. The organizations also have a right to try to convince everyone to become a vegetarian, a vegan and even a fruitarian.

But they can’t use customs duties as an ideological tool. They can’t be allowed to prevent the government from doing its job: providing cheaper food for all Israelis, including the poor and anyone who enjoys eating meat.

It should be noted that no country but Israel levies customs dozens and hundreds of percentage points on food. That’s the Bolshevik legacy of protecting agriculture and local producers, which has become an absurdity we pay for every time we visit the supermarket.

It’s amazing to discover that the people who oppose lowering import duties that make meat, milk, fish, poultry and eggs so expensive later take to the streets in stormy demonstrations against the cost of living and the deteriorating situation of the poor, who don’t have enough money for food. Don’t they see the contradiction?

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