Speaking in the Spanish parliament, Rato said that food prices had risen inexorably over the last two years, and that while some of the most recent increases were related to the summer heat wave reducing crop sizes, this was only part of the issue.
While he recognised that prices would inevitably increase between the time a product left the farm and hit the supermarket shelves (in order to cover the cost of packaging, transportation, etc.), Rato said that he believed there was evidence to suggest that the retail trade also acted illegally in some cases to further increase prices. This evidence had been pinpointed by the Competition Tribunal, he said, and would be examined by the relevant authorities.
The minister said that the government had already taken action, publishing a weekly list allowing consumers to compare farm gate and supermarket prices for a variety of food products, and commissioning a report which would give clearer insight into the various factors in the food supply chain which influence the final cost of products.
But opposition MPs were less than convinced by the government's measures. According to a report from Europa Press, one socialist MP, Jesus Cuadrado, said that the government was "directly responsible for this state of affairs" by failing to curb the excesses of the retail groups.
"Tomatoes are a luxury product in Spain today," he said, adding that food had suffered from "unacceptable and inexplicable" inflation, rising by 69 per cent more than the EU average.
"There was no heat wave last year, and prices went up just as much," Cuadrado pointed out. "France also suffered from the heat wave this year, but there was no similar phenomenal increase in prices there." In his final salvo, Cuadrado pointed out that the majority of the supermarket operators in Spain were French-owned, and that this handful of foreign companies had a stranglehold on the million Spanish farmers and 36,000 Spanish food companies. Rato and the government, he said, were guilty of "allowing French companies in Spain to do what they were not permitted to do in France".