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Italian consumer groups call pasta strike over rising prices

September 13, 2007|From the Associated Press

MILAN, ITALY — Be it fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti, Italians will soon be paying as much as 20% more for their pasta.

Consumer groups are calling for a one-day pasta strike today -- not against eating it, but against buying it -- to protest the increase. But producers say the strike targeting Italy's national dish is wrongheaded because the price is linked to a global rise in the cost of grain.

Pasta is an Italian staple, entwined with the national identity. It's not uncommon for families to discuss which pasta -- including tubular penne and twisty rigatoni -- best fits that day's sauce. The average Italian eats about 62 pounds of pasta a year on a peninsula untouched by low-carb diet crazes.

The increase in the price of pasta is being driven by rising wheat prices worldwide, economists and producers say.

The demand for wheat is chiefly caused by an increasing demand for biofuels, which can be made from wheat, and improved diets in emerging countries where more meat consumption is raising the demand for feed for livestock, said Francesco Bertolini, an economist at Milan's Bocconi University.

As a result, wheat supplies worldwide are being depleted and grain prices are soaring.

Similarly, the December wheat contract, the largest futures contract, rose to a record $8.71 a bushel Tuesday on the Chicago Board of Trade. The price is up about 74% this year.

In the Italian supermarket, that will translate by the end of the year into an increase of 16 to 19 cents on a 1-pound package, which now typically runs from 83 cents to $1.25, said Furio Bragagnolo, vice president of the Italian pasta makers association.

Even at higher prices, Bragagnolo said the cost of a portion of pasta would be only about 23 cents.

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