Daily Israel Report

Cottage Cheese Protest Becomes Inquiry into Dairy Prices

As more than 90,000 Israelis promise to stop buying cottage, a Knesset committee is formed to investigate dairy prices.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 6/21/2011, 5:57 AM / Last Update: 6/21/2011, 5:12 PM

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Israel’s great cottage cheese protest, which began as a simple protest on Facebook and escalated to a debate in the Knesset, turned on Monday into an inquiry into the rising prices of dairy products.

Industry and Trade Minister Shalom Simhon (Independence) ordered on Monday to form a committee that will examine the implications of the rise in dairy prices on all its aspects, including the issue of importing products, price controls, and competition.

The committee was formed on instructions by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Simhon will be a part of the committee, along with Agriculture Minister Orit Noked (Independence) and professionals from the Ministries of Industry, Agriculture and Finance. The team will also include representatives of the manufacturers.

Simhon said he intends to meet with industrialists and dairies to test the significance and implications of recent events.

“It is our duty to preserve the agriculture industry in the State of Israel,” he said. “These are Zionist values ​​and they are vital sectors of the Israeli economy.”

At the same time, noted the minister, “it is our duty to allow residents of Israel, both middle class and disadvantaged sectors, to succeed to live in dignity and comfort. There is no reason that children in the State of Israel should see dairy products as luxuries.”

Simhon added, “We will not accept that the desire to maintain Israel’s agriculture industry will prevent free competition between food manufacturers and supermarket chains. We will not accept that the desire to maintain Israel’s agriculture industry will translate into unfair profits at the expense of the public in Israel.

“Cottage cheese is an example,” continued Simhon. “It is a symptom, but you have to start somewhere and it is time to achieve a renewed balance in Israel, in a way that gives the Israeli citizen and the average Israeli family the weight it deserves.”

Earlier on Monday, a Knesset committee voted on a request to ask the State Comptroller to investigate Israel’s cottage cheese prices.

The rise in cottage cheese prices has been a hot issue in the forefront of recent  news, especially in the Globes business newsmagazine, which first publicized the issue/  The Facebook protest page, which exhorts  customers to stop purchasing cottage cheese as of July 1, has continued to grow and, as of Monday, more than 90,000 people have declared support for the boycott.

Executive for large dairy manufacturer: The public is right
Meanwhile on Monday, Ofra Strauss, Chairwoman of the Management Board of The Strauss Group, one of Israel’s largest dairy food producers, referred to the cottage cheese issue, saying, “In recent days I have listened to the public discourse, which has been critical and angry, going way beyond a cup of cottage.”

Strauss, who spoke at the Israel Democracy Institute’s Caesarea Conference, admitted that “the public is right. There is no doubt that the price of food is a matter that concerns everyone, and people are not looking for reasons [for the high prices], analyses, explanations and excuses. The public is looking for solutions.”

Strauss added, “We, the food industry - and Strauss is a significant part of the food industry - are merely one link in the chain of prices. The solutions are in the hands of all - the food industry, farmers, retailers, and of course the Israeli government.

“The voices are so powerful that we must stop and listen,” added Strauss. “Our industry must listen to what is happening out there. The meetings have already begun and I hope we achieve solutions quickly.”

On Tuesday, the Dairy Manufacturer's Association issued a statement saying that instead of opening the gates to imported dairy products to encourage competition, as the government threatened, it would even welcome back the price controls that it had formerly fought against.