A heated discussion about the agriculture industry, including potential layoffs of hundreds of workers at state-controlled agricultural exports company Agrexco, occupied the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Monday.Committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud) slammed the government for not issuing debenture bonds despite holding 30 percent of the company, saying it was “behaving like a common thief.”“The state is a symbol that everyone scrutinizes,” he said. “There are those who say if the state doesn’t pay its debts, neither should [Tao Tsuot controlling shareholder Ilan] Ben-Dov, [Delek Group’s Yitzhak] Tshuva and [Africa-Israel Group’s Lev] Leviev.”Agrecxo is currently in a stay of proceedings, after financial difficulties in 2010 brought its total debt to more than NIS 500 million. The company is controlled by the government, which holds 30% of shares and has a majority on the board of directors; the Agricultural Marketing Board, which holds 58.7%; and food manufacturer Tnuva, which holds the remaining 11%.Attorney Shlomo Nass, trustee of Agrexco, recently requested permission from the Tel Aviv District Court to lay off workers. On Monday, he testified to the Knesset committee that the Finance Ministry had not been answering his phone calls, at the same time as “the entire agriculture industry faces collapse.”“Agrexco was established 56 years ago by the state to act as the agriculture industry’s exporting arm,” Nass said. “It is a company of national importance. Some 2,500 farmers and thousands of workers and suppliers are likely to be hit by its collapse.“We needed to secure a source of funding to keep this business alive. I turned to state officials and told them that this is secure funding, which will be returned within one to two months. But the state is ignoring me.”Meanwhile, the Knesset Economics Committee passed the second and final readings of a bill to ensure that agricultural produce for the domestic market meets the same health and safety standards of produce destined for overseas.