September 13, 2007
Rising prices prompt pasta strike for a day
Richard Owen in Roma
Italians are being urged to forgo spaghetti, tagliatelle and ravioli today to protest against rising prices.
The one-day “pasta strike” has been called by the main Italian consumer groups, which blame the increasing use of durum wheat for biofuels for price increases of up to 20 per cent. The groups are trying to persuade Italians to boycott pasta and bread in the shops and order something other than pasta in restaurants and trattorias.
The strike will present a tug of war between Italians’ anger over price rises and their profound attachment to pasta – as much a symbol of italianità (Italianness) as pizza, opera and football. A recent opinion poll found that nearly half of Italians would rather forgo sex than spaghetti.
Yesterday, however, even Clemente Mastella, the Justice Minister and a noted bon viveur, vowed to support the strike. “The protest is more than legitimate,” he said. “In any case, going without spaghetti for a day will do me good.” He said that his wife did the shopping, and he had been shocked to find from her that a kilo of spaghetti cost on average €1.14 (78p).
The centre-left Government of Romano Prodi said that “alarmism” was unjustified. But Rosy Bindi, the Minister for the Family, admitted that many families struggled to make ends meet because the prices of pasta, bread and milk had gone up as much as 20 per cent over two months. Asked if she would join the strike, she replied that she was “already on a diet”. The consumer groups have promised to distribute free pasta, bread and milk in piazzas today, including Piazza Mon-tecitorio in front of parliament.
Carlo Rienzi, head of Codacons, one of the groups, said: “We want the Government to proclaim a price emergency and intervene immediately with measures to bring down prices by 5 per cent.” He said that thousands of families faced bankruptcy because of rises in utility as well as food bills.
Mario Rummo, head of the Italian Pasta Manufacturers’ Association, said that imports of durum wheat – from which pasta is made – had fallen partly because of poor harvests but also because exporters such as Canada were selling it as an ingredient for ethanol, driving the wholesale price up.
In addition to low crop yields caused by unusually hot weather in the US, Canada, Australia, Syria and Morocco, heavy rainfall in Europe damaged durum wheat crops this spring and summer, producing an estimated shortfall of three million tonnes. A recent report by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations predicted that partly because of the biofuel phenomenon global consumption of grain would outstrip grain production over the next decade.
Mr Rienzi, the Codacons chief, said that the gap between what the farmer received and the price the consumer paid was “absurd and criminal”. He said that the average family was paying an additional €1,100 a year on its food budget.
--28kg of pasta are consumed per person a year in Italy, the most in the EU and more than ten times the quantity in Britain Source: Associations of Pasta Manufacturers of the European Union