Venezuela’s largest food producer on Monday denied stockpiling food supplies, blaming government-imposed price controls and soaring demand for sporadic food shortages.
Empresas Polar rejected accusations by President Hugo Chavez and other officials that it has been “hoarding” food to drive up prices, saying that price controls, rising consumption and high world commodity prices are causing the shortages.
Chavez, who has vowed to prosecute suppliers who overcharge for food, on Sunday warned that any business caught hoarding food products to later sell them at inflated prices “should be seized and taken under government control.”
He set his sights on Polar – Venezuela’s largest private company owned by billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza - calling it a “clear example” of the kind of business that is ripe for takeover.
But government price controls do not apply to most Polar products, and those that do have fixed prices are sold wholesale to supermarkets, leaving the markets, not the company, responsible for any overcharging, Polar said in a statement.
Sugar, cooking oil, milk, beans, eggs and chicken are among the basic food products that regularly disappear from supermarket shelves.
Chavez’s critics blame the shortages on price controls, established in 2003 to help the poor afford food. But the fixed prices often force suppliers to sell goods for less than the cost of production, making it hard to turn a profit.
Polar said its representatives are willing to meet with government officials to seek to ease food shortages - a problem that demands “joint action between the government and private enterprise.” (AP)
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