Iowa investigates possible food-price gouging

DES MOINES — Iowa is part of a bipartisan effort around the nation to strengthen enforcement and prevent anti-trust activity within the nation’s food system, a move that could bolster the state’s existing price-gouging law.

Thirty-one attorneys general, including Iowa’s Brenna Bird, are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ultimately bring down food costs and create more choices at the supermarket. While recent inflation spikes have been a factor, officials say price gouging is a possibility, too.

Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog with the Public Interest Research Group, said it is worth taking a closer look.

“We very much believe in a free market, but not when it comes to crossing the line of trying to take advantage of individuals and families who are just trying to feed their kids,” Murray asserted.

Beyond price structures, the USDA said states will also be watching for conflicts of interest, misuse of intellectual property, and anticompetitive practices across the food and agriculture supply chains. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the move, calling it an “overreach.”

Iowa has a law designed to protect consumers from price-gouging, but Bird supports the national investigation, too.

Murray noted while there have been rumblings about these issues, it is hard to go into a grocery store, see higher prices, and know for sure whether corporate greed is at play.

“What are the manufacturing costs? What are the labor costs, which probably have gone up?” Murray outlined. “What are the supply chain costs? What are the distribution costs? And then where, at the end, is there a profit, and is anybody along the way taking advantage of the situation?”

But she pointed out such a large group joining forces speaks volumes about the desire to protect consumers.
Murray added there is no federal statute addressing price gouging, so state enforcement such as with Iowa’s law will be important and will add additional consumer protections if a federal law is passed.