September 18, 2008 / 12:30 PM / 9 years ago

Italian consumers stage "bread strike" over prices

<p>A baker kneads bread in a bakery in downtown Rome September 18, 2008.Tony Gentile</p>

ROME (Reuters) - Consumer groups tried on Thursday to persuade Italians not to buy bread for a day, and to cut down on their consumption of other goods and services, to protest at price rises they say are not justified by raw material costs.

Baking and handing out free bread near Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office, protesters called the 30 percent rise in bread prices over the past year a "rip-off" and demanded a moratorium on price hikes and lower taxes on staple goods.

"We have to stop this before it gets out of control, we have to stop the rise in price of food and energy costs," said Carlo Pileri, president of consumer group ADOC.

Such groups say costs of staple foods like bread and pasta ignore the fall in prices of commodities like wheat in recent months from their record highs in late 2007 and early 2008.

Last month there was a "pizza protest" in Naples over high prices and a year ago consumer groups held a "pasta strike".

Bakers, apparently doing good trade anyway, questioned the argument lower wheat prices should bring down bread, saying they had other costs besides flour, such as wages and electricity.

"People should really try and understand what is the cost of producing bread, with the costs of setting up and running a bakery," said Rome baker Fabrizio Roscioli.

<p>Bakers work in a bakery in downtown Rome September 18, 2008.Tony Gentile</p>

Baker Giuseppe Bernadino said the average Italian family's food bill had risen only "2 or 3 cents a day" because of bread.

The Italian Bakers' Federation said there had been no drop in sales for their 25,000 members, while some shoppers voiced discontent but said they had to put bread on the table anyway.

<p>People wait to buy bread in a bakery in downtown Rome September 18, 2008.Tony Gentile</p>

"It is expensive, but what can we do?" said Rome shopper Veronica Melacci, stocking up on fresh bread for the day.

ADOC advised consumers to make a broad protest at the cost of living by doing as little shopping as possible and avoiding using their car, keeping televisions, lights and computers off for the morning and not using mobile phones for three hours.

Italy's inflation is higher than its euro-zone neighbors, at 4.2 percent in August, pushed up by food, fuel and power.

Farmers' lobby Coldiretti issued a study to coincide with the strike showing that bread prices vary wildly, from 1.93 euros a kilo in Naples to 3.61 euros in Milan.

"This clearly shows bread prices depend only marginally on grain prices which are fixed internationally by the Chicago Board of Trade," said Coldiretti, estimating that there was a "mark-up of almost 1,300 percent from the field to the table".

Writing by Stephen Brown; additional reporting by Cristiano Corvino; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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