European Competition Bodies Boost Food Sector Oversight

The food sector is a priority for European competition authorities and oversight has increased since food prices started to climb in 2007, according to the European Commission, the 27-nation bloc’s executive arm.

World food prices climbed 42 percent in 2007, according to a gauge of 55 food items tracked by the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization. The index was at 213.9 points in April, an increase of 12 percent from the end of 2007, data from the Rome-based agency show. Prices may stabilize at high levels and keep government import bills near a record, Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director general at the FAO, said in an interview on May 3.

“Competition authorities across Europe are working hard to ensure that food markets work for suppliers and consumers alike,” Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission’s antitrust chief, said in a statement e-mailed today. “Where there has been anticompetitive behavior at any level of the food supply chain, competition authorities have swiftly addressed them.”

European competition authorities are investigating 60 antitrust cases in the food sector, according to the commission. From 2004 to 2011, more than 180 antitrust cases were investigated, with close to 1,300 merger decisions being made and 100 monitoring actions undertaken, it said.

“The largest number of cases concerned processing and manufacturing,” the commission said in the statement. “More than 50 cartels involving price fixing, market and customer allocation, and the exchange of sensitive business information have been prohibited, as have exclusionary practices that worked against farmers or suppliers.”

Antitrust Cases

Most of the antitrust cases concerned cereal-based products, retail sales of groceries, and milk and dairy, followed by fruit and vegetables and meat, poultry and eggs, said the commission, which released a report on competition in the food sector after requests by members of the European Parliament.

“There are more things that could be done,” Almunia said. “Some producers could restructure and pool activities in order to become more efficient while some countries still have unnecessary regulatory barriers at the retail level.”

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