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Daily Israel Report

The Great Cottage Cheese Protest of 2011 Reaches Knesset

A Knesset committee will vote today on a request to ask the State Comptroller to investigate Israel’s cottage cheese prices, amidst a boycott call.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 6/20/2011, 1:09 PM / Last Update: 6/20/2011, 1:22 PM

Tnuvah

A Knesset committee will vote today on a request to ask the State Comptroller to investigate Israel’s cottage cheese prices.

The Knesset Control Committee will debate today a proposal to ask State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to look into the behavior of the price supervisory council, in light of the steep increase in the price of dairy products, and especially that of cottage cheese.

The rise in cottage cheese prices have been in the forefront of the news of late, especially the Globes business newsmagazine, which first brought the issue to the fore. Globes has been strongly pushing a grassroots effort to call a nationwide boycott of cottage cheese, beginning July 1. The Globes website in Hebrew for today, for instance, has five front-page articles on the topic and related issues.

Another Knesset committee, the Economy Committee, called yesterday for an immediate return of cottage cheese prices to government control.

“We want the dairy companies, and others, to make their profits in the merit of growth engines such as initiatives and new ideas,” said Committee Chairman MK Carmel Shama (Likud), and not via price coordination of various types and centralization. This current expensive cost-of-living  social crisis demands a long-range solution - but also an immediate one.”

Shama also said that the low official inflation rate is misleading, in that basic staples such as housing, water, gas, and basic foodstuffs have in fact risen by “tens of percentage points.”

Why Now?
A spokesman for Tnuva Dairy Company said that the price of cottage cheese has not risen in six months. So what is all the brouhaha now? That’s precisely what MK Ze’ev Elkin of Likud asked in the Knesset last week, when he noted that the Kadima government removed the price controls from cottage cheese no fewer than three years ago, leading to an immediate jump from 4.82 shekels per 250-gram container to 7.15. It was being sold a month ago at around 6.50-7.50 shekels, but several supermarket chains have lowered the price in recent days because of the boycott call.

The boycott leaders explain that their crusade is not only over cottage cheese, but about food prices in general. “How can it be that in Great Britain, soup nuts made by [Israeli food giant] Osem sell for the equivalent of 9 shekels, while here they cost 16? Why does Osem’s Bamba peanut snack costs half as much there as here?”

A spokesman for the Tara Dairy Company blamed the supermarket chains: “We sell them cottage cheese for 5.52 including VAT; why do they sell it for close to 8 shekels?”

MK Shelly Yechimovitch, who is vying for the leadership of the dwindling Labor Party, said that the cottage cheese boycott is a “cute effort, and the dairy companies should be put in their place. But I have high standards for myself, and I have high standards for the public: Why is that all the grassroots efforts are only for the sake of our own pockets? Why is there no concern about the sale of Machteshim Agan [for instance] to a Chinese company, which will lead to the unemployment of many hundreds of middle class workers?”

Yechimovitch left unclear her reference to “all the grassroots efforts” being for selfish ends. In religious nationalist circles, for example, “all the grassroots efforts” are in fact geared towards national ends, such as not giving up Jerusalem, releasing Jonathan Pollard, against destroying Jewish communities, and the like.