Irish grocery distributors have angrily rejected new allegations that they are responsible for consumer prices sharply outpacing other European countries over the past five years.
A report from Forfas, the republic's national Policy and Advisory Board for Enterprise, Trade, Services, Technology and Innovation, predicts that Ireland is likely to become the most expensive country in Europe during 2003.
It is currently marginally second in the league table after Finland.
But, at the opening of the 17th IFEX international food and drink exhibition in Dublin this week, retailers and producers attacked media allegations that they were engaged in "rip-off" pricing tactics.
One told The Grocer: "This tirade is similar to the one that British stores faced from the media several years ago.
"They proved that it was unfair and we shall do the same. There is plenty of competition in our retail sector."
It is the second time in a month that the grocery trade has been forced to defend itself against the rip-off jibes.
As reported in The Grocer on April 26 (p12), RGDATA director general Ailish Forde denied there was any lack of competition after Richard Bruton, a spokesman for the opposition Fine Gael party had called for action against what he called the "massive rip-off" of consumers by supermarkets and other shops. Trade and enterprise minister Mary Harney responded by announcing she was "actively reviewing" the Groceries Order, which has outlawed below-cost selling for the past 16 years, in a bid to curb high inflation.
A similar re-examination of the retail planning guidelines, restricting store size to 37,700 sq ft in the Dublin area and 32,200 sq ft elsewhere, was under way, she said, to see if its removal could enhance competition and drive down prices.
Opening IFEX on Tuesday, Ireland's secretary of state for agriculture, Noel Treacy, blamed distributors and retailers for the high price of food in Ireland.
He said: "The government is putting systems in place to look at the levels of profit being taken in these sectors which is also fuelling inflation.
"All I can tell you is that it is not the primary producer, the farmer, who is getting the level of prices paid by consumers."

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