CA Works to Root Out Price Gouging on Groceries

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
The average family of four in California could end up spending almost $1,300 per month on groceries, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Attorneys general from more than 30 states – including California – just announced a bipartisan effort to bring down costs and create more choices at the supermarket. State law enforcement agencies are pledging to work with the USDA’s new Agricultural Competition Partnership to investigate price gouging in the food industry.

Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog with the Public Interest Research Group, said while recent inflation spikes have been a factor, it’s 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, ” she explained.

Beyond price structures, the USDA said states will be on the lookout for conflicts of interest, misuse of intellectual property, and anti-competitive barriers across the food and agriculture supply chains. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the move, calling it an “overreach.”

Murray added 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, you know,” she said. “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?”

Murray added there is no federal statute addressing price gouging, so state enforcement will be important. California has a law on the books that makes it a crime to price gouge during an emergency – but not all states do, and some are limited in scope.