The “cottage cheese protests” of several summers ago are still echoing in the halls of Israeli justice.
After tens of thousands of people protested the high price of dairy products and other basic items in the summer of 2011 – protests that arguably led to the implementation of government programs to reduce the cost of housing, and to recent changes in the law to remove import taxes on a wide range of food products – the original nexus of the protests is now the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit against dairy firm Tnuva over the price of cottage cheese was authorized this week by the Lod District Court in response to a request by a consumer group. The group is seeking to sue over what it said were violations of antitrust laws, and the court agreed that, as Tnuva has more or less a monopoly in the cottage cheese business, those laws could apply to the company.
The lawsuit is being led by attorney Ofir Naor, who is seeking NIS 125 million from Tnuva for the refund of money he says the company overcharged for cottage cheese between 2008 and 2011. In 2008, cottage cheese was removed from the list of products under price controls, and Tnuva promptly raised its price by 41 percent, to NIS 7 per container. According to Naor, the maximum the company should have been charging was NIS 6 per container. The price dropped to below NIS 5 per container after the protests in 2011, and has hovered around that level since then.
The court agreed that Tnuva was out of line, and that it did appear that the company violated the law. Speaking to Channel Two, Naor said that “this is a struggle that has been going on for years. This is the first time that the courts have authorized a class-action lawsuit over monopolistic practices and unfair treatment of consumers.”
In a statement, Tnuva said that it was studying the case, and would “consider all the facts and circumstances before acting. We believe we have strong arguments to respond to this lawsuit, and that it will be rejected in the end.”