There is increasing concern about the integrity of Israeli organic certifying body Agrior, which is employed by the Soil Association to certify produce from the West Bank and from Israel. Earlier this year the organisation Corporate Watch uncovered evidence that produce from West Bank settlements bearing the Agrior logo is being labelled as produce of Israel even before it leaves the settlements.
A report which appeared in Israeli daily Haaretz in August 2007, (“It’s organic, but where was it grown?”) makes it clear why this should not come as a surprise. In the report, Agrior`s director, Hagai Raban, was quoted as saying that the organization has full documentation detailing the products’ source, and that this can be obtained on request. Crucially though, he added,
“We don’t interfere in producers’ commercial considerations, or in how a producer wants to present the product”.
This was said in the face of concerns expressed by those Israelis who also wish to avoid settlement produce, including the distinguished Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, who left the Tel Aviv organic co-op he had recently joined, after confirming his suspicion that the free-range eggs the group was buying came from a farm on an illegal outpost. Agrior, were the certifying body in this case, and Sfard told Haaretz that:
“The chickens may be ranging free, but the Palestinians in the area were employed under slave conditions, and their lands were stolen. Organic consumerism doesn’t mean only healthy eggs, but also making consumer choices that don’t harm the environment, people or animals”
Concerns about Agrior were also recently raised at a demonstration by Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists outside the Soil Association`s headquarters in Bristol.
In a statement, the Soil Association responded:
“….we have been in direct contact with all of our licensees who import products from Israel. We have not found any to be importing goods from the West Bank. We will continue to rigorously monitor this situation. Until we find evidence to the contrary we cannot act unilaterally against produce from Israel.”
In light of the Agrior director`s candid remarks, which demonstrate a willingness to place the interests of producers before consumers, this would seem to be a very naive approach.
For settlers, the West Bank is Israel, and to have to label their produce as anything other than “produce of Israel” is an affront to everything they believe in. In the UK, ethical consumers and retailers encountering items labelled “produce of Israel” would do well to remember this.