Cows grazing .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hundreds of farmers plan to disrupt traffic on Road 6 during the Monday morning rush hour to protest agricultural provisions passed alongside the budget last week.
Led by the Israel Farmer’s Federation, they plan to take to Road 6 in convoys at 9:30 a.m., driving to the Agriculture Ministry and clogging the major traffic artery in both directions along the way. The farmers said they would be protesting under the slogan: “Jews do not uproot agriculture.”
With a goal of generating competition and lowering the cost of living, the government elected to cancel regulated production quotas in the goat-milk sector, as well as remove an existing cartel in the poultry industry.
These clauses were among the many elements of the Economic Arrangements Bill, which the government approved in tandem with the national budget.
According to information released by the Finance Ministry last week, the agricultural provisions of the Economic Arrangements Law call for cancellation of a 2011 national goat and sheep milk manufacturing plan, so that, gradually, there will be no such formal plan by 2020.
“The goat milk industry is not administered freely, but is managed with the utmost government intervention through central and detailed planning of production quotas granted to each producer in the industry,” the Finance Ministry statement said.
“Planning of this kind does not exist in any developed country.”
Meanwhile, the statement explained, goat milk prices are not regulated by law and instead are dependent on agreements among dairy farmers and producers and reflect high production costs. As a result, those farmers with more efficient production methods do not sell their products at lower prices, translating to a higher cost to consumers, the ministry said.
As far as the removal of the poultry cartel is concerned, the statement explained that the Poultry Council has many powers that pose a barrier to the entry of new players into the industry and creation of competition.
The approved reform will limit the Council’s activities in the industry, maintaining its authority only in the egg sector, the statement said.
Unsatisfied with these terms, the Israel Farmer’s Federation argued that the Agriculture Ministry does not understand the magnitude of the issue, and warned that in a decade there will be no farmers left in Israel.
“We are disappointed, very disappointed,” said Israel Farmer’s Federation chairman and Moshavim Movement secretary-general Meir Tzur.
“We will not allow for the elimination of entire agricultural sectors through the belligerent, underhanded opportunism of the Economic Arrangements Law.”
Federation officials stressed that thousands of farmers will need to close their farms, finding themselves unemployed and with no income.
They warned that the Economic Arrangements Law provisions could cause Israel’s agricultural sector to be transferred from local to foreign hands.
“We are in favor of agricultural reform but not reform under the framework of the Economic Arrangements Law – rather as part of a long-term agreement of 15-20 years that will regulate all issues of agriculture,” Tzur said.
In response to the Federation arguments and pending protest, the Agriculture Ministry pointed out how its officials succeeded in removing many other agricultural sector clauses from the original version of the Economic Arrangements Law text.
“The Agriculture Ministry is sometimes presented as a shield for farmers at the expense of consumers and sometimes as a shield for consumers at the expense of farmers,” a statement from the ministry said.
The ministry argued that it works to maintain a delicate balance between the protection of agricultural livelihood and of consumer interests.
“In this case, as well, the ministry acted to protect the farmer and the family farm, as well as the consumer and lowering the cost of living,” the statement said.