Milan, Italy Consumer groups urged Italians to refrain from buying pasta Thursday to protest rising prices for the beloved Italian staple, in a strike that was high on symbolic value but apparently low on real impact.
Consumer groups organized protests in Rome, Milan and Palermo - and even handed out free pasta, bread and milk to passers-by to help ease the pain for those who decided to support the strike and forego pasta purchases at supermarkets and restaurants.
Activists say Italians will soon be paying up to 20 percent more for their daily serving of fettuccine, spaghetti or linguine. They say prices are being driven up by middlemen, while earnings for farmers and producers remain flat.
"Prices increase by five times between production and consumption," Toni De Amicis, a leader of Italian farm lobby Coldiretti, said during a protest in Rome. "The right recipe is to reduce the gap between production and consumption."
Similar charges have been lodged in France, where shoppers are grumbling that their aromatic baguettes will soon cost more because of rising flour prices. A consumer group warned in August of likely bread price increases of about 8 percent.
The warning prompted accusations that supermarket chains were disproportionately increasing prices on breads, as producers noted that the price of flour only represents 5 percent of the total price of bread.
On average across France, the price of bread rose 1.1 percent in August, according to the statistics agency INSEE. A crusty long loaf costs about 97 cents.
The EU's Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, meanwhile, called for increased production of crops like wheat, oats and barley to counter widespread cereal shortages on the world market that have been blamed for rising commodity prices.
Boel urged EU governments to back a plan allowing grain farmers across the 27-nation bloc to plant crops on all their fields. Under rules from 1992 designed to prevent overproduction and to preserve habitats, all farmers are barred from planting on 10 percent of their total crop field holdings.
Fischer Boel has recommended the rule be put on hold for a year, to fill shortages of cereals on the world market.