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Comptroller targets environment over pesticides
By SHARON UDASIN
01/05/2012
Water Authority must quicken its process to expand water desalination Lindenstrauss says in final annual report.
 
The Environmental Protection and Agriculture ministries must increase their surveillance of pesticide use, and the Water Authority must quicken its process of expanding water desalination, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s 62nd annual report disclosed on Tuesday.

In a chapter about environmental protection in agriculture, the report examined the ways in which relevant government bodies were regulating the usage of pesticides and fertilizers.

The most major weakness this section uncovered was the lack of a data collection system, which would allow the relevant government authorities to monitor the risks associated with pesticides and fertilizers.

Both the Environmental Protection and Agriculture ministries must increase their surveillance of pesticide use, to ensure that Israel’s regulations are up to par with those of other Western nations, according to the report.

In most Western nations, it is customary to conduct field surveys and publish the types of pesticides used, but in Israel the quantity of pesticides have only been examined twice – in 1998 by the Central Bureau of Statistics, and in 2008 by a private entity, the report said.

In response, the Agriculture Ministry argued that United States and European nations actually only reevaluated their pesticide usage once every 10 to 15 years, because this time span was necessary to accumulate analysis material. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Ministry added that the Central Bureau of Statistics was now conducting an updated, comprehensive survey.

The report acknowledges that the country is committed to sustainable agriculture, but also concludes that “Israel still lags behind,” and in part blames the Environmental Protection Ministry’s “weakness as a regulator.”

In response, the ministry stressed that as early as 2005, it had initiated new regulations to restrict the presence of pesticides near buildings, parameters that have brought Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) toxin inspectors to monitor the problem.

Researchers at the Technion in Haifa are now conducting a study regarding pesticide dissipation in the air, and in accordance with these results, the ministry will consider changing spraying regulations.

Regarding its power of enforcement, the ministry said that INPA inspectors report their findings to the ministry, which chooses to seek criminal enforcement based on evidence.

In another chapter of Lindenstrauss’s report, the State Comptroller’s Office evaluated the government’s progress in establishing desalination facilities.

Desalinated water production stands at about 300 million cubic meters annually, through three facilities – Ashkelon, Palmahim and Hadera, according to the Water Authority.

Officials have not been effective enough at translating decisions into actions, and therefore may not achieve the intended goal of 600 million cu.m. annually by 2013, the report indicated.

For example, it argued, although a 2001 government decision called for establishing a desalination plant in Ashdod by 2003, its construction has not yet occurred.

“The government must ensure that the objectives for coping with the water shortage will be achieved in the time prescribed for it,” the report said.

The authorities must also ensure that a monopoly does not occur in the desalination sector, it added. The company building the future Sorek plant is a partner in three of the five current desalination projects, and will be involved in about 70 percent of all desalinated water production in 2013, the report warned.

A final chapter examined how the Agriculture Ministry has issued grants aimed at helping farmers purchase machinery that would decrease their need for foreign workers, as well as improving water infrastructure. While distributing many of the funds, however, the ministry bypassed the restrictions of the 1980 Law for the Encouragement of Capital Investment in Agriculture by issuing the grants from a separate, “administrative” track.

Hundreds of millions of shekels, therefore, reached farmers without obliging them to reduce their workers or significantly improve their infrastructure, and some farmers have engaged in acts of water profiteering at the expense of other farmers, the report said.

While the Agriculture Ministry said in response that it was working to fix the law so two different funding tracks would no longer be necessary, the office also stressed that all subsidies were executed legally and transparently, based on needs such as water conservation and foreign worker reduction.
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