Millions of Italians took the drastic measure of not eating their customary plate of pasta yesterday, in protest at what consumer organizations claim are savage and unjustified rises in the price of staple foods.
In the central piazzas of major cities including Rome, the organizations handed out free pasta, bread and milk to draw attention to their cause and urged passers-by to take a day off from shopping. In Italian supermarkets a one-kilo pack of spaghetti costs on average ¿1.14 (96p).
By mid-afternoon it was claimed that up to 48 per cent of Italians had gone along with the strike, which is intended to put pressure on the government's watchdog on fair competition to launch a full investigation into price rises. Rosario Trefiletti, president of Federconsumatori, said: "In six sample cities, Milan, Rome, Naples, Bari, Catania and Palermo, between 12 and 48 per cent of people interviewed in major shopping centres said they did not intend buying pasta today."
Pasta – Italians are Europe's greatest consumers of it eating 10 times more per head than in Britain – was the major target of the campaign, but the organizers urged the public not to buy anything which has recently shot up in price.
Carlo Rienzi, head of one of the groups Codacons, said: "We have met the head of the Anti-trust Authority, Antonio Catricala, who has recognized the fundamental role of our organizations in reporting pricing irregularities." A spokesman for the Authority said, "It is not in our power to change or impose prices, but an investigation is under way on deformities in the market."
Codacons maintains that recent whopping price rises in the cost of essentials – pasta up 27 per cent year on year for example – cannot be justified by citing rises in cost at source. "It's all a result of speculation," the organization claimed. "The excuse of raw material costs cuts no ice." Its website has a table showing that pasta in the supermarket cost four times the cost of the grain at source, fresh pasta 15 times, bread 11 times and milk four times.
One member of the government has bought into the campaign: portly minister of justice, Clemente Mastella, whose favourite pasta dish is paccheri (like sliced-up sections of garden hose) with tomato and ricotta cheese, said he would join the strike "because I believe in the cause". But another government minister, Rosy Bindi, said it would be redundant for her to join the strike as she was already on a diet.