The Manufacturers Association of Israel has called upon the government and Knesset to establish an independent food authority with the aim of harmonizing the supervision of manufacturing, imports and marketing of food products in Israel. "For years we have lamented about the absurd situation in Israel, where we have 14 different authorities supervising the production and marketing of food goods without any coordination between them," said Rony Kovrovsky, chairman of the food industry association at the Manufacturers Association. "The time has come to put an end to this scandalous situation." Total sales of the food industry are expected to increase by 4.5 percent in real terms to NIS 50.2 billion in 2007. Sales to the local market are set to increase by 4% to NIS 46.8b. this year, while food exports are expected to grow by 17% to $830 million. Food export sales to the Palestinian Authority, this year, fell 30% to about NIS 300m. compared with the previous year. At the same time, food imports rose 19% to $1.4b. Looking ahead to 2008, the Association forecasts a moderate slowdown in the growth of total food sales to a rate of 3%, while food exports are set to grow by 12%. Kovrovsky noted that this year, 83% of the food companies invested in health and nutritional improvements of their products such as lowering the cholesterol, fat and sugar levels. Of the food companies, about 68% invested NIS 300,000 in making health improvements, 16% invested between $300,000 and $1m. and another 16% invested over $1m. According to a survey conducted by the Association, about 37% of the food companies are engaged in educational projects about nutrition and a balanced way of life. In 2007, food companies invested NIS 300m. in research and development of sound nutrition compared with NIS 250m. in the previous year. The Food Industry Association estimated that within five years, R&D investments by the food industry could be doubled to NIS 600m. through the utilization of the Chief Scientist's budgets. Ashdod Port blames staff shortage for delays The management of the Ashdod Port Co. is urging the Health Ministry to increase its staff at the port by at least three additional officers to ease disruptions in the passage of food goods that are resulting from extensive delays in the detention department. At an emergency meeting this week with Health Ministry representatives, food importers and representatives of the Chambers of Commerce, it was determined that the main reason for the delays in the release of food imports was the shortage of staff following a significant increase in food imports over the past few years. The Health Ministry has five officers at the port to handle 17,000 food shipments a year. The Ashdod Port said the shortage of staff has been causing delays of three to four days for the release of food imports. In October, delays at the detention departments at the ports, in particular the Ashdod Port, cost food importers NIS 500,000 in damages a day as a result of storage costs, losses of orders and missing supply deadlines, according to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.