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Italian pasta industry summoned

ROME, Jan 4 – The Italian government on Sunday summoned the pasta industry to explain its pricing as part of an investigation into suspicions that a cartel has driven up the cost of Italy\’s favourite food.

The economic development ministry\’s "Mr Price", the guarantor of price surveillance, had called the industry to a closed-door meeting on January 19, a ministry statement said.

"The producers of pasta are summoned to Mr Price over the fixing of the retail price of pasta compared to the wholesale price and the cost of the raw materials," the statement said.

Mr Price, who is Roberto Sambuco, had called in the industry after observations over the past year had "revealed evidence of problems with the growth of retail prices of pasta", it said.

A dozen organisations were called to the meeting, including pasta manufacturers and millers, covering the industry\’s entire production and commercial network.

On December 15, Italian police raided top pasta makers Barilla and De Cecco as well as the pastamakers\’ union as part of an enquiry launched in 2007 by the state prosecutor\’s office after complaints from consumer associations.

In 2007 consumer watchdogs called for a "pasta strike" to protest price hikes.

The prosecutor\’s office suspects five companies — Amato, Barilla, De Cecco, Divella and Garofalo — of having formed a cartel to push up prices.

In February last year Italy\’s antitrust authorities fined 26 pasta manufacturers 12.5 million euros (18.2 million dollars), accusing them of collaborating in a cartel that operated from October 2006 to March 2008.

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Between May 2006 and May 2008 pasta prices jumped by 51.8 percent, according to the antitrust authority. It was also around that time that the cost of the main ingredient of the food, wheat, shot up.

Italians on average eat 28 kilogrammes (62 pounds) of pasta a year per capita — by far the highest consumption in the world, according to the Association of Pasta Manufacturers of the European Union.

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