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Britain bans Israel label on goods from West Bank

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor
The Times (London)
10 July 2002


SUPERMARKETS must no longer use “produce of Israel” labels on vegetables, fruit, flowers, wine and fruit juice grown and packed in the occupied territories of Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
The instruction from the Government has angered Israeli diplomats and some businessmen, who believe that the decision is connected to an aggressive campaign for a boycott of Israeli goods.

The Israeli Embassy’s official response is that it is still “studying” the likely impact of the change, though privately representatives say they are shocked by the move. It is the first time the Government has issued instructions that clearly differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories.

One senior Israeli Embassy source yesterday accused ministers of succumbing to “pressure from campaigners with an obvious anti-Israeli political agenda”.

He added that the Government may have “unwittingly bowed to groups that have nothing to do with consumer interests but rather are seeking to score political points against Israel.”

The change came in a letter from David Holliday, chief horticulture marketing inspector at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to the British Retail Consortium and supermarket chains. The matter is to be taken up with Margaret Beckett, the Rural Affairs Secretary, by Lord Young of Graffham, a former Trade and Industry Secretary, and now chairman of the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Holliday wrote: “Advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry is that produce from these occupied territories ought not to be labelled as ‘Produce of Israel’, because these territories are not recognised as part of Israel. It has been agreed that in this particular case and in order to give as much information as possible these products should be labelled with their region of production rather than a country of origin that may be misleading.”

A spokesman denied that the instruction was politically motivated, and said that the action had been taken after inquiries by retailers asked by shoppers about the origin of the produce. He said that the instruction was agreed by the European Union and applied to all member states.

It means that produce from Israeli-owned co-operatives and farms in the occupied territories will not qualify for preferential rates of import duties at ports. Exporters will have to pick up the bill or pass on the cost to customers in Britain.

The Israeli Embassy is unaware of any other EU state adopting such a policy.

Lord Young said: “This has come like a bolt from the blue. We believe it is discriminatory and unfair. I cannot believe the Foreign Office and DTI are behind this. This is something that has come out of Defra, not from anyone high up, and does not represent the views of the Government.”

Betty Hunter, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has been campaigning for a boycott of Israeli goods, said: “We are extremely pleased. A lot of produce from illegal Israeli settlements is being mixed with goods from Israel and they have been using the label to get advantageous tax concessions from the EU.”