Deal Paves Way for Large-Scale Meat Imports

YERUSHALAYIM -
Cows wearing digital collars eat at dairy farm in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, southern Israel, that feeds data to a national database which monitors the output, health, genetics and fertility of every cow in Israel, May 19, 2015. Decades ago Israeli dairy farmers confronted a quandary - how could they provide milk to a fast-growing population in a country that is two-thirds desert, with little grazing land? They turned to technology, developing equipment that boosted output - from cooling systems to milk meters and biometrics - and have made Israeli cows the most productive in the world. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (Newscom TagID: rtrlseven058441.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]
Cows feeding. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

In preparation for a major change in the way fresh meat is sold in Israel, the government has signed an agreement with farmers that will compensate them for the competition they will face from the importation of meat from abroad, Globes reported. Beef and lamb growers affected by the changes will receive an increasing amount of government price-support assistance through 2021, at which point the assistance will reach its maximum level of NIS 39 million, based on the current agreement.

The benefit to consumers of the new import rules is expected to be significant. Last month, after a period for the public to register concerns expired, the Agriculture and Finance Ministries authorized the importation of 17,500 tons of fresh meat – about 87 percent of the annual amount of kosher meat consumed in Israel – with no import duties. The assistance to farmers is designed to help them compete with the expected lower prices that the imported meat will be sold for.

According to the Ministries’ plan, the market for imported meat will be wide open within two years, with customs duty suspended on nearly all fresh meat entering the country. Immediately after the holidays, Agriculture Ministry officials will inspect slaughterhouses in Italy to ensure that they meet Israeli import standards. A senior source in the Ministry said that the plan was to allow for the free import of meat from as many markets as possible, the better to increase competition in the fresh-meat market.

As proof that the policy is working, officials pointed to the recent decision to allow the import of fresh meat from Poland. There, shochtim working in slaughterhouses produce meat – including Beis Yosef meat under the Rabbinate’s supervision – that is imported directly into a number of Israeli supermarket chains. As a result of those imports, fresh meat prices have fallen between 5 percent and 10 percent, the officials said.

While opening up the relatively small Israeli market to sources from throughout Europe and elsewhere sounds like it could be risky for Israeli meat producers, the objective appears to be to replace the current frozen meat supplies with higher-quality fresh meat. Over the past few years, Agriculture Ministry policies have largely eliminated the market for frozen poultry, which at one time was the mainstay of the Israeli poultry market, and has been replaced by large supplies of fresh poultry. The same process is now underway in the meat market, officials said.