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April 21, 2006

Food prices in the news

Shopping1We are trying to follow the local news in Greece as best we can, with a combination of reading the Athens News weekly English language newspaper, and watching the evening news TV bulletins in Greek, whilst struggling to understand what is going on. We've followed the story of the level-crossing train crash that happened in the north of the country this week, and the series of earthquakes that have occurred under the sea south of Zakynthos over the last couple of weeks.

We've been really puzzled though by one story this week. Virtually every news bulletin we have caught has lead with the price of meat, often comparing the prices of meat in the different regions (it is cheaper in Thessalonika fact fans) or the 2006 prices to the 2005 prices. There will be some interview with a butcher, then some vox-pops with some angry old women, then some shots of carcasses, and then some graphics saying the price of lamb has risen from €6 per what-not to €9 per what-not.

Shopping2This weekend is Easter in Greece, and it is traditional for households to cook a lot of special foods, including lamb roasted on a spit. The price rise to me seems like a simple case of seasonal festival-related supply and demand. I don't think turkey gets any cheaper in the UK at Christmas time.

I guess though that there is a historical and social subtext at work here. A lot of things seem much more regulated in Greece than we are used to back in the UK. The price of drinks in bars for customers who are not seated is regulated, as is the cost of hotel rooms. Over here, they still have an annual collective pay-rise negotiation between the unions and the private sector, which this year has agreed a rise in excess of 11%. It seems though that since Greece joined the Euro they have had to allow more market forces into their economy - with mixed feelings. A recent study by the European Commission to mark 25 years of Greece being an EU member found that whilst 67% of Greeks were in favour of European Monetary Union, 55% felt that adopting the Euro had been a disadvantage. So with this background, the price of lamb rising, or the price of individual eggs rising from €0.07 to €0.10 in the run-up to Easter, is national news.

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