A sharp increase in prices in Spain during September is to be investigated by the country's competition authorities, the finance ministry has announced.
Earlier this week we reported that the cost of a wide range of fruit and vegetable products had increased substantially during September, a rise initially attributed to the hot summer weather reducing harvests.
But the Madrid authorities are clearly not convinced that this was the reason for the sharp rise in prices, and an investigation has begun into exactly why the price of green beans, salad tomatoes, lettuce and other fruit and vegetables has escalated so quickly.
"We want to look closely at exactly what happened," finance minister Luis de Guindos told the Cinco Dias newspaper. "Fresh product prices have increased across Europe, but by much more in Spain than anywhere else, and we have not yet found any reason to justify this disparity."
The investigation will cover all fresh produce and not just those which have shown the major price increases, and will focus on the various different stages of production and distribution.
The competition authorities will try to determine whether there has been an agreement to fix or increase prices - which is illegal in Spain - and legal action could well be taken against any company found to have taken part in any such action, the minister said.
The investigation is likely to take at least two to three months, De Guindos said.
The announcement of the probe came on the same day as the results of another food-related investigation by the competition authorities were finally published.
The investigation centred on the food retail sector and was charged with assessing whether the strict new store opening regulations in some of Spain's autonomous regions were harmful to competition.
The good news for the food retailers is that the competition authorities did indeed decide that the often draconian regulations governing new store development in many of these regions were detrimental to competition and that these regulations should therefore be altered to make it easier for the supermarket groups to expand there.