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August 3, 2023 -  By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News

 

Big Sky Connection - Recent spikes in groceries and other consumer goods have renewed concerns over price gouging. Attorneys general in more than 31 states, including Montana, are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine just how much consumers have been affected, and whether any suspicious activity by corporations is involved. Comments from Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog, Public Interest Research Group.

Part of a multi-state effort to look into higher food prices

Mark Moran

August 3, 2023 - Montana is part of a bipartisan effort around the U.S. to strengthen enforcement and prevent antitrust activity within the nation's food system. The move comes amid questions about whether consumers are paying fair prices at the grocery store.

Thirty-one attorneys general, including Montana's, are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ultimately bring down food costs and create more choices at the supermarket. While recent inflation spikes have been a factor, officials say price gouging is a possibility, too.

Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog with the Public Interest Research Group, said it is worth taking a closer look.

"We very much believe in a free market," Murray stressed. "But not when it comes to crossing the line of trying to take advantage of individuals and families who are just trying to feed their kids."

Beyond price structures, the USDA said states will also be watching for conflicts of interest, misuse of intellectual property and anticompetitive practices across the food and agriculture supply chains. Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the move, calling it an "overreach."

Montana does not have its own price-gouging law.

Murray noted while there have been rumblings about these issues, it is hard to go into a grocery store, see higher prices, and know for sure whether corporate greed is at play.

"What are the manufacturing costs? What are the labor costs, which probably have gone up?" Murray outlined. "What are the supply-chain costs? What are the distribution costs? And then where, at the end, is there a profit, and is anybody along the way taking advantage of the situation?"

Murray pointed out the combined efforts of 31 states speaks volumes about the desire to protect consumers.
She added there is currently no federal statute addressing price gouging, so state enforcement of any new federal law will be important.

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