Food out of poor’s reach

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Approximately $1,000. That is how much it costs, excluding general consumption tax, to purchase 10 of the basic food items consumed by the most vulnerable.

That amount of money is a little less than one-third of the $3,700 weekly minimum wage.

Among the calculated food items which could not feed an adult for a week based on nutritional requirements, are a pound of chicken and a small loaf of hard-dough bread.

Karl Samuda, industry, investment and commerce minister, said last week, that he would meet with distributive traders to determine how best prices could be stabilised on basic foods.

At a popular supermarket, in Cross Roads, St Andrew, on Friday, one man peppered his statements of shock with expletives when he saw the price of cooking oil. A small 500 ml bottle of vegetable oil sells for about $180.

His partner, standing at his side with a trolley, only replied: “Remember, me did tell you seh di tings dem expensive.”

The Gleaner observed similarly frustrated customers at two other supermarkets in the area, as the news team continued checking the price of groceries.

“Is it that the price of rice is going up?” one woman asked another. This was followed by sighs from other shoppers at a dry-goods shelf.

Steve Malcolm, president of the National Con-sumers League, said the government was blind to racketeering by merchants.

“Some merchants are holding the country to ransom,” said Malcolm.

The president said some merchants wanted to capitalise on expected sales during the Christmas season and so, even if price adjustments could be made, some would prefer not to lower prices at this time.

Becoming bearable

However, Samuda has contended that based on information from retail traders, operational costs are becoming unbearable.

Security costs and wages are the main factors being used by merchants to apply increased costs to food items.

Pleading on consumers’ behalf, Malcolm said since there had not been a salary increase on a nationwide scale, consumers were more at a disadvantage.

“Almost every week, some food items increase in price and workers’ pay don’t go up every week,” he said.

Relative to what has been happening on the world market with a drop in the price of oil, wheat and corn, Malcolm concluded that merchants could reduce prices.

“We (the league) are warning consumers to buy less, shop wisely and deliberately, only for items needed and not wagga-wagga this Christmas,” said Malcolm.