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Italians spurn pasta in price protest

September 14, 2007

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: September 14 2007

Italians were urged by consumer groups yesterday to go on a “pasta strike” in protest against sharp price increases in everyday foods.

Standing outside parliament in Rome, with a ribbon of pasta around his neck, Carlo Rienzi, head of the Codacons consumer association, berated politicians, wholesalers, retailers and speculators – “everyone but farmers and consumers”.

The consumer groups called on Italians not to buy pasta for a day – “a symbolic but important sacrifice”, said Mr Rienzi. Pensioners voiced their support, as the protest struck a chord with Italians who do not believe official inflation statistics and see spiralling costs in their shopping baskets.

Recognising that rising wheat prices on world markets are partly to blame, consumer organisations in Italy argue that farmers are not gaining the benefit and that, for example, the price of tomatoes can be 50 times more for the customer once they pass through the long chain from field to shop counter.

Producers claim that pasta is still relatively cheap and that the increase in the cost of wheat on world marketsis to blame for the price rise in Italy as the country imports about half of its durum wheat needs.

Paolo de Castro, agriculture minister, told the Financial Times that overall food inflation was in line with the general rate. He too blamed world prices for increases in the cost of pasta, bread and milk, but said retailers, distributors and speculators were responsible.

He said he would push for the European Commission to free up land that had been “set aside” in order to increase grain production. Referring to rising demand from Asia, he said Italy wanted EU milk quotas to be raised. “Why wait for next year if we are under such pressure from the markets,” he said.

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