Senate looks to investigate rise in food prices

By John McPhaul

The island Senate is on track to conduct an investigation into the rise in food prices and will pay special attention to the increase in the cost of fresh meat in Puerto Rico, the upper chamber announced Wednesday.

Senate Resolution (SR) 222 also orders the identification of the strategies that the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO by its Spanish acronym) will carry out to address the situation as well as the identification of alternatives to protect consumers from price gouging, said Sen. Gretchen Marie Hau of the Guayama district, the author of the measure.

“That citizens have to face hikes in the prices of products that are consumed daily is unjustifiable,” Hau said in a written statement. “To this we add the silence on the part of DACO, which limits its own powers and prerogatives [on behalf of] the thousands of Puerto Ricans who will have to choose between buying their food, medicine or paying for essential services such as water, electricity as well as gas. or pay the [highway] toll.”

“Given this scenario and as [chairwoman] of the Senate Committee on [Economic Development, Essential Services and] Consumer Affairs, I am called to investigate what is happening, what the plans of the agencies concerned are to address this issue and how we can contribute legislation to benefit the working class of the country,” the senator added.

The April report of the Consumer Price Index of Puerto Rico revealed an increase of 1.4 percent when compared to April 2020. The highest growth was in the categories of food and beverages (1.4 percent), clothing (2.1 percent) and transportation (3 percent). Other categories that saw a price increase are gasoline and airfares.

“In the area of food, a substantial increase is expected in meats and chicken, which are central to most Puerto Rican dishes. Meanwhile, Héctor Román, a spokesman for the DACO Economic Studies Division, assures us that the rise in the price of fresh meat is justified, because the profit margin obtained by the sellers and distributors of the product is minimal,” Hau said. “The question is, what will the agency do to prevent this rise? What will the agency do to ensure that citizens’ pocketbooks are not affected? We have to take action at once. We cannot continue imposing on and giving more burdens to consumers.”

The demand for meat consumption is expected to increase as more dishes are prepared on the grill due to the summer season and the extension in the hours of operation of places that prepare and sell food.

Likewise, a rise in poultry prices is expected. Data published in different media shows that more than 200 million pounds of chicken are imported into Puerto Rico per year.

“Only 20 percent of the total chicken consumed is produced on the island, which means that the prices of chicken that comes from abroad will also increase,” Hau said. “DACO is the agency that has the non-delegable responsibility of defending consumers against commercial interests. What we have shown, so far, is that they limit themselves to being proactive in promoting a fair balance that benefits our consumers.”

Hau said she expects that the measure will be approved so that the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Essential Services and Consumer Affairs can immediately begin the investigation ordered in SR 222.

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