Knesset committee discusses high cost of kosher meat certification

On Tuesday, May 31st the Knesset’s Committee on Special National Infrastructure Projects and Jewish Religious Services held a hearing about the meat industry in Israel, focusing on the cost of kashrut supervision and the impact on the cost of living. According to the statistics presented to the committee, Israelis consume 180,000 metric tons of beef annually. 60% of the meat consumption in Israel comes from the import of fresh or frozen meat, 25% from live shipments of animals, and only 15% from locally raised animals. The cost of beef and poultry in Israel is 40% higher than the OECD average. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate recognizes only 600 ritual slaughterers, and the salary of such a slaughterer is approximately $264,000 per year.

Committee Chairperson MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beitenu) spoke after the presentation of the statistics:

The meat industry in Israel is kosher, but it stinks. I am opening a 30-year-old Pandora’s box, but the time has come to do so. Meat is a basic consumer good, and I want to lower the cost of meat in Israel. Importers of meat receive threats that if they talk, their kashrut certification will be rescinded. This is very upsetting and worrying. There are 31 meat importers in Israel, and only 600 ritual slaughterers. We are talking about a concentrated industry. There is a small and wealthy group that controls the meat industry and makes sure that kashrut costs remain high.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, MK Abir Kara (Yamina) added:

This is one of the most important discussions in the State of Israel. The obstacles on the importation of meat are very numerous. In Israel, 100% of the imported meat is checked. The main actors that are weighing down the meat industry with regulation are the Ministry of Agriculture, the Veterinary Inspection Corporation, the Ministry of Health, and the Chief Rabbinate. The moment that the reform passes, there will be a dramatic decline in the number of live shipments.

Haim Borokvsy, from the Budgetary Branch of the Ministry of Finance:

In our estimation, the kashrut certification of meat makes the industry more expensive on a scale of 550 million shekels per year. There is an incentive in the meat industry to import live calves to be slaughtered in Israel, to save the cost of ritual slaughter abroad.

Rabbi Abraham Buchbot, Director of the Ritual Slaughter and Import Department of the Chief Rabbinate, discussed the number of officially recognized ritual slaughterers:

According to our records, there are approximately 600 ritual slaughterers that we recognize. To the best of my knowledge, they get paid between $800 and $1,100 for a day’s work, which brings their monthly salary to approximately $22,000.

Director of Enforcement at the Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Refael Yochai:

The Chief Rabbinate is not involved in the amounts that are paid to ritual slaughterers abroad. Business with slaughterers is in the private market, and it is not supervised by the Rabbinate. Most of the Israeli public trusts the kashrut certification of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

Committee Chairperson MK Yulia Malinovsky wrapped up the discussion:

We must resolve the issue of kashrut of imported meat. At the top of our priorities must be solving the problem of supervisor-supervisee and increasing the number of ritual slaughterers recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. I ask that I receive the procedures that have been drafted for certifying ritual slaughterers in Israel and the names of the slaughterers recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

Following the discussion, an image published by Yisrael Beitenu comparing the monthly salary of a ritual slaughterer (100,000 shekels) and a publicly employed doctor (34,000) sparked some discussion on Twitter.

MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) tweeted:

Someone needs to tell Liberman that the slaughterer who charged him prices like that took extra because me made a special order. The slaughter of domesticated animals and poultry charges much less, and you only need to cover the blood, not the entire body.

MK Malinovsky replied:

And now if we’re going to be serious. We are talking about an average salary of $30,000 for the head of a team of slaughters (of beef, not poultry that is raised and slaughtered in Israel) who is flown abroad. The one paying is the importer- from my check with importers, the Rabbinate is the one who makes the connections. The reason that there are only 600 slaughterers is that the Rabbinate does not want competition, and that is the reason the salaries are so high.

MK Rothman:

If we’re being serious, this ad is a lie, because it compares the head of a team of 20 slaughters who flies abroad and leaves his family for months, and who receives a salary like this for the period that he is abroad, to a regular surgeon in Israel. This is anti-Semitic demagoguery, and it is a shame that a party in Israel has such a campaign. We cannot have a discussion on the matter like this.