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Bill to subsidize gluten-free bread passes hurdle
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
06/04/2012
Proposed legislation to help those suffering from celiac disease approved by Knesset c'tee despite opposition.
 
A private member’s bill that would subsidize gluten-free bread – which is required by the tens of thousands of Israelis suffering from celiac disease – was approved Monday by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee for its first reading in the plenum. The bill was initiated by Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit.

According to the proposal, the cost of gluten-free bread will be kept at a level that is never higher than that of standard bread. In addition, those who suffer from celiac disease will be reimbursed for up to NIS 500 per month per family for purchasing special food, and the income tax rates of companies that sell gluten-free food products will not go above 25 percent.

Gluten-free grains include corn, millet, teff, rice, wild rice and quinoa; oats are also considered safe for celiac patients’ consumption.

The bill was approved by the committee despite strong opposition from representatives of the Finance and Justice Ministries, who argued that the cost of implementation could add up to “hundreds of millions of shekels” a year.

Tali Stein, a Justice Ministry representative, said it was “wrong to pass a law that is specific to one disease, and thus discriminatory,” even though there previous laws have passed that prove compensation to victims of other diseases, such as disorders resulting from radiation for ringworm.

Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects about 1% of the population or more. Its symptoms, including diarrhea and weight loss or isolated nutrient deficiencies without gastrointestinal problems, can appear at any age. It is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains. The immune system’s reaction causes an inflammatory reaction that interferes with the absorption of nutrients.

The only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet, as no medication exists to combat the disease.

Subsidies of gluten-free bread and other foods exist in other countries including the UK and the US.

Committee chairman MK Haim Katz said at the session that previous efforts to prepare the bill failed because of government opposition. “It may be that Kadima’s joining the coalition helped us. Even if the bill is not exactly what we wanted, we must try to make a crack in the wall. Despite the government’s opposition, we will work hard for approval of the bill in the plenum,” said the Likud MK.

Sheetrit said tens of thousands of celiac patients have been “treated unfairly for years, as even a super-capitalistic country like the US has tax benefits for celiac patients, and gluten-free food companies receive billions of dollars in tax benefits. What about our patients?” Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, a physician by profession, said the ministries’ opposition was “absurd.”

Committee members approved the proposed bill unanimously, and it will be sent to the plenum for consideration.
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