Committee: Stop Subsidizing Unhealthy Food Products

Shopping in Yerushalayim’s Machaneh Yehudah market. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On the one hand, the state spends billions to alleviate the health problems due to obesity, heart problems and other nutrition-related issues – but on the other hand, it regulates the price of items like sugar, white flour and other foods that encourage unhealthy eating, said MK Eitan Cabel at a meeting of the Knesset Economic Council, which he chairs. “This is one of the biggest absurdities in the economy. We are essentially subsidizing unhealthy foods that are part of the reason we have to spend billions on health problems.”

The meeting, commemorating International Diabetes Day, was called to examine the issue of the high cost of organic food in Israel. Organic versions of products and produce run between 40 percent and 120 percent more than the cost of the non-organic varieties, and the purpose of the meeting was to figure out why, and what to do about it.

Among the price differences: Whole-wheat bread costs on average 67 percent more in Israel than in other developed countries, while organic or grass-fed beef is 22 percent more expensive here. In 2005, the prices of all fruits and vegetables sold in Israel were on average 40 percent lower than in other countries; today, the price difference is barely 8 percent.

According to Dubi Amitai, head of the Israeli Farmers Association and a witness at the meeting, farmers are getting less than ever; the ones raking in the profits are the four largest supermarket chains. Amitai recommended that the committee promote a law that would require stores to provide customers with information on how much they paid for produce wholesale  – to allow customers to understand where their money is going.

After hearing from numerous witnesses, Cabel closed the meeting, saying, “We have not reached any conclusions, but the data shows that there is a tremendous need to change the attitude of the government, which does not seem to understand what the problem is,” and pledging to continue pursuing the issue.